You know you secretly love the social media drama you pretend to hate
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It's become a near-universal online experience.
You log on to find yourself drowning in a shitstorm of vague subtweets, quote tweets, or (most damning of all) screencaps of deleted tweets. The takes, counter takes, and counters to the counter take are popping off like a movie theater concession stand. And you've only just barely had a sip of your morning coffee.
This is not a drill — it's social media drama. And I live for it.
Popular wisdom would have you believe that social media drama is the blight of all online existence, one of the most hated facets of our sadomasochistic relationship to Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and (for certain demographics) Facebook. In fact, a common facet of the social media drama content economy is a subset of people vocally griping about the heated discourse, and proving themselves above it all with screenshots of all the words they muted to release themselves from that hell.
But I call bullshit. I'm garbage. You're garbage. Social media is a dumpster fire for our collective garbage. And I love to watch it burn, baby, burn.
If we didn't deep down love online drama to some degree, we wouldn't have roundups of our favorite influencer feuds of the year.
The plight of "Instagram author" Caroline Calloway and former best friend/"ghostwriter" Natalie Beach wouldn't have commanded our attention for weeks. Tati Westbrook's video calling out James Charles wouldn't have become world news. That lady who was "at capacity" due to the "emotional labor" of being a decent friend wouldn't have become a copypasta staple. Dedicated online drama accounts like Best of Nextdoor, Best of r/Relationships, and She Rates Dogs wouldn't have hundreds of thousands of followers each.
I for one am done feeling ashamed for consuming certain social media drama like a fine wine. Actually, I'm prepared to make the argument that embracing it might just be one of our best methods for coping with this cycle of social media self-hatred.
Now, to be clear, we're using a narrow, specific definition of "social media drama." To fit our definition, the heated online debate must inherently have little to no real stakes and do little to no harm. Anything that devolves into bullying, hate mobs, online hate speech, or cancel campaigns becomes another beast entirely.
So, take Star Wars discourse, for example. While the existential crises of fans trying to cope with The Rise of Skywalker counts as the delicious category of social media drama, the racist and misogynistic campaign against Kelly Marie Tran after The Last Jedi absolutely does not.
But admit it: You become a full-on film noir private investigator when you get wind of a social media drama pile on, sleuthing to get to the bottom of a ratio'ed tweet if it's the last thing you do. You must know the tea, who spilled it, and drink in every subtle note of flavor with every slow, delectable sip.
A love for drama is only human, innate to our psychology and the main motivation behind our craving for storytelling.
Originating from a Greek word that roughly translates to "action," drama has always been at the heart of one of our most ancient social traditions, delivering both the laughter and tears evident in those masks that symbolize theater.
Tension or conflict in a story piques our interest because we process it like practice, learning to develop skills that might help us avoid said conflicts. It even "produces signs of arousal: the heart and breathing speed up, stress hormones are released, and our focus is high," neuroeconomics researcher Paul J. Zak wrote in Greater Good, a UC Berkeley magazine focusing on scientific research. It's also easy to get addicted to drama, Brain health expert Nicole Fisher wrote in Forbes that, "since drama uses the same mechanisms in the brain as opiates, people can easily become addicted to drama."
So while you have to watch out for getting hooked on the stuff, there's no denying that we often enjoy drama as much as a bump of cocaine.
It almost goes without saying, but drama is also an embedded part of the design of most social media platforms. Twitter's algorithm prioritizes content with lots of engagement and that people are more likely to pay attention to. So you're more likely to encounter drama-filled ratio'ed tweets than ones that are all sunshine and daisies.
Whether we like it or not, social media drama isn't going anywhere any time soon. So rather than feeling defeated or superior for disliking this driving force behind these platforms we elect to participate in, why not learn from it? Chaos is social media's god. Worship her as your Trash Queen, and you might be spared.
Beyond that, drama is just kind of what happens when you throw so many different kinds of people into the same shared virtual space.
In a 2018 Pew Research study, 45 percent of teens admitted to feeling overwhelmed by social media drama — and to be clear, they're referring to the personal cyberbullying type that is unequivocally bad, and not our specified definition. But an overwhelming majority of those teens also said the positive aspects of their online experience outweighed that negative.
Most interestingly, 69 percent also specifically pointed to the benefit of how social media "exposes them to greater diversity – either through the people they interact with or the viewpoints they come across," and that "these sites help people their age interact with individuals from diverse backgrounds," and "find different points of view."
To reiterate, the social media drama fueled by sexism and racism is a problem that must be fixed and never celebrated or normalized. But well-meaning conflict seems an inherent outcome of those different points of view colliding on the same platform. Social media conflict can come with perks, and training yourself to see a particular kind of it as a gift rather than a punishment can be an apt way of coping with this unavoidable online experience.
But, as with any potentially addictive substance, there are some rules for enjoying social media drama responsibly.
Never — and I cannot emphasize this enough — never put yourself in the line of fire if you don't want to. You should not feel the need to add your own take or commentary. Social media drama will implode without you adding fuel to the flames and potentially make yourself a target if it devolves into personal attacks. Instead, observe the drama from a comfortable distance, like a spectator at a tennis match, diligently following the increasingly aggressive volleys with (at most) a dignified smatter of applause for a good match point.
Also, know when to say no.
The "harmless" stipulation in our preferred type of social media drama is often dependent on your own experiences, current mental state, triggers, or personal attachments. For example, I don't give a fuck about Star Wars. So watching the fandom have a collective meltdown over questions about the latest film felt like, in a sick way, vindication for abstaining from it altogether.
At the end of the day, listen to yourself. Sometimes the healthy option is to exclude yourself from the narrative. Like our good friend Tom Steyer at the 2020 democratic debate, sometimes you, "Don't want to get in the middle, I just wanted to say hi to Bernie."
And to that we say, "Yeah, good, OK." Don't get in the middle of it. But say hi, shake hands with the drama. You might just find that our shared love for it can unite as much as it divides.
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January 24, 2020 at 04:36AM