“Remember that the number of seconds in your day never changes. The amount of social media content competing for those seconds, however, doubles every year or so, depending on how you measure it. Imagine, for instance, that your network produces 200 posts a day of which you have time to read about 100. Because of the platform’s tilt, you will see the most outraged half of your feed. Next year, when 200 doubles to 400, you will see the most outraged quarter, the year after that the most outraged eighth. Over time, your impression of your own community becomes radically more moralizing, aggrandizing, and outraged, and so do you, at the same time, less innately engaging forms of content. Truth appeals to the greater good, appeals to tolerance, become more and more outmatched, like stars over Times Square.”
— An excerpt from The Chaos Machine
On why social media algorithms steer users toward outrage
When you log on to Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, you think that what you are seeing is a neutral reflection of your community, and what [your community] is talking about. When you interact with it, you think that you are getting feedback from your peers, from other people online. But in fact, what you were seeing, and what you were experiencing, are choices made by these incredibly sophisticated automated systems that are designed to figure out exactly what combination of posts, what way to sequence those posts, how to present them to you will most engage certain very specific cognitive triggers and cognitive weak points that are meant to get certain emotions going. They are meant to trigger certain impulses and instincts that will make you feel really compelled to come back to the platform to spend a lot of time on it.
Those [upsetting posts] are the things that are most engaging to us, because they speak to a sense of social compulsion, of a group identity that is “under threat.” Moral outrage, specifically, is probably the most powerful form of content online. And it’s the kind of content that engages your eyeball, and most engages your emotions, because it taps into these deeply evolved instincts that we have as social animals, as group animals, for basically self preservation.