It’s hard to be on social media right now. Yes, Facebook is often a terrible place during an election, but even Twitter, where I often can have the most control over what I see, is a festering pot of negativity.
Even socially justified anger aimed at the hate-filled rhetoric of Donald Trump—and all his lesser Republican Russian nesting dolls—is off the charts.
Is it possible for this to change? According to a recent study at USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Information Sciences Institute, it might be.
Research by Emilio Ferrara, the study’s leading author, shows what many studies (often focused on Facebook) have explored: emotions online can spread like a virus. In fact—and this may seem contrary to anecdotal evidence—researchers analyzed 3,800 random Twitter users and “found that emotions spread virally through Twitter feeds – with positive emotions far more likely to spread than negative ones.”
I’ll admit it: this seems really hard for me to believe. Have they met the Internet?
This feels like the worst election rhetoric I’ve seen in my lifetime—and it is still not even 2016. Then again, my anecdotal evidence is not data. Maybe I’m looking past the Tweets that push positive emotions only to see the negativity.
I confess that I’m not helping in the positivity arena, but there is a good reason. After all, we don’t have just one Trump to reckon with, because, as Paul Fidalgo writes, “they are all Trumps,” or as Hemant Mehta recently said: “Trumps, all the way down.” All the Republicans are campaigning on the idea of turning America into one giant panic room. One might need a giant wall to keep that kind of right-wing demagoguery out of daily life.
But I’m hoping against hope that the next year will be different. Maybe promising puppies and unicorns is meaningless, but I’m going to think hard about how my rhetoric improves the conversation online.
Unfortunately, I also expect to #failoften.
Dammit it. There’s that negativity again.