By Paul John Caña
A good way to get to know people is to find out what upsets them. It used to be difficult; it usually takes a while before new acquaintances let their guard down enough to expose their inhibitions, fears and prejudices, let alone the things that make them blow their top. But thanks to social media, anger has become a lot easier to detect, not to mention much more commonplace.
In fact, along with cat videos and scandals involving celebrities, stories that elicit outrage have become the easiest way to capture page views and encourage shares. Parse through your Facebook newsfeed, and outside of the what-I’m-doing, where-I’ve-been, what-I’m-eating general mundanity, and links to stories of the amusing, feel-good variety, people have become masters at expressing indignation, and they’re doing so more and more frequently.
Misogyny, homophobia, racism, pedophilia, cruelty to animals, religious tyranny, idiocy in government, anti-nationalistic sentiments, China’s latest shenanigans, war, corruption, reports of duplicity, professional incompetence, guy parked in two spots, a fly in the soup we ordered, or random acts of callousness and stupidity, the list is virtually endless. Whatever it is, as long as it stirs fury and resentment, people will bite, or in this case, post.
Online outrage is the modern-day equivalent of townsfolk hoisting torches and pitchforks, marching against a perceived threat, and buoyed by intense feelings of purpose and the desire to MAKE THINGS RIGHT. We find something offensive and we don’t hesitate to announce our shock and revulsion on Twitter and Facebook. Some recent examples: the murder of Cecil the lion, the legalization of same-sex marriage in the US, the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Kony 2012, the PDAF scam, reports of the misuse of aid to victims of typhoon Haiyan, the Jaguar driver who counter-flowed, the guy who duped a Jollibee delivery man, and many, many others.
Why is it so easy for us to become instant internet advocates, if not armchair activists? Would we be so forthright in expressing our ire or annoyance at the issue du jour in real life, at, say, a casual office lunch, a random bar or club, or any generic congress of individuals? I suppose some of us would (see how many party invitations they get), but a vast majority would likely choose to clam up and feign ignorance or indifference when faced with a discussion that’s even remotely contentious. So why then is it so much easier to vent online?
The answer, I think, is good old-fashioned vanity. Expressing outrage online allows us to feel better about ourselves, and show people in our network that we genuinely care about something and that we don’t subscribe to that most reprehensible of qualities: apathy. And we don’t even have to expend so much energy doing it. When it comes to real world strife, there’s nothing more convenient than simply hitting the “Share” button, adding a personalized articulation of our disappointment or wrath, and letting our friends think we stand for something. All while sitting comfortably at home or in our airconditioned offices.
This isn’t an indictment of those who choose to go public with their sentiments. There is value in letting off some steam, especially if it leads to actual, real-world reform (although, unless you’re a public figure with some modicum of influence, the chances of that happening are extremely slim).
But what we have to understand is that outrage expressed online typically bears some form of self-righteousness. When we express disgust or displeasure at something, often we place ourselves on some moral high ground, awarding ourselves the corresponding right to dispense judgment and ridicule. And you know what those people are called: douchebags.
Sure, the world is a shitty place right now. Plenty of things don’t work as they should, and people are shouting their anger more often and ever louder in order to be heard. But they’re doing it wrong, of course. The trick is to say something unique and meaningful, and to do it with honesty and integrity.
We need to take a collective chill pill before we go off on a cursing spree at the injustices of everyday life. Let’s not be too quick to share the latest outrage story, then sit back and wait for the “likes” from our friends as a symbol of their assent: a chorus of Oo nga no! Let’s not add to the noise if all we’re going to say is, “This sucks.”