When bad things happen, people rush to social media. They share their thoughts. Share their photos. They get into arguments on the public platform. Whether it’s in the aftermath of a violent mass shooting or about the death of a celebrity, users rush to insert the self into current events the way an addict needs a much-needed high.
Even bad things on Facebook give people a high. That’s a scientific fact. Dopamine is released. That translates into giving the user a “sense of belonging,” according to media-buying firm RadiumOne, which commissioned a study of social media users in 2012. “Every time we post, share, ‘like,’ comment or send an invitation online, we are creating an expectation,” according to the study, which also concluded that users get to “advance our concept of self through sharing.”
Our addiction to social media, though, only provides an ephemeral sense of belonging. Through sharing trite platitudes, users feel like they’re somehow a part of the discussion. When Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner passed away, users rushed to social media to share tributes of what he meant to them. Some even tried to paint the publisher as one of the biggest thinkers of our time, who provided thought-provoking essays. It’s worth noting that S.I. Newhouse, the legendary Condé Nast publisher, died at 89 just a few short days later, but received scant media attention by comparison.
The New Yorker, which prints under the banner of Condé Nast, is a premier publication that has allowed for rigorous debate on everything from nuclear weapons to race, sans photos of naked women. But the social media narrative was not about Newhouse. Instead, Hefner was hailed a civil rights hero. The fact that the mansion he lived in was one filled with squalor and, according to one former “playmate,” the blurred lines of what constitutes consensual sex, is ignored. Hardly empowering to women, but too many jumped on the bandwagon. After all, they had to say something, right? Perhaps the most nausea inducing of the posts were about how Hefner would get to “rest alongside Marilyn Monroe,” a woman who he never met. Indeed, never even asked permission to publish her naked photos from her. She was eventually consumed by the problematic culture of which she was part.
So maybe it’s time for all of us to think critically before we have to share our thoughts on an event. Perhaps it is useful to research the person before buying the narrative that’s fed to us, even by the news media.