Why are fights so popular on social media?

What do you think when you see people having an argument on social media?

I’ve been having lots of conversations about this with people in my network who are appalled at what looks like bullying, harassment, racism, sexism, and intimidation, on a scale we’ve never seen before.

Social Media has always been a place where people air their views but the polarization is much worse now than its ever been.

Maybe the anxiety of living with a pandemic has made people less tolerant or maybe our world leaders are leading the way in widening divisions in society.

But there’s also another explanation.

Dissent attracts a lot of attention


It didn’t take long for people to realise that the more they could get people arguing on their posts the more points they got from the Algorithm Gods on the social media sites.


Content creators measure their success by analysing how many thousands of views, impressions, engagements, and reach they get.

The social meda platforms, using galaxy-brain sized software that analyses tens of thousands of data points, make sure that if you engage with this type of post once, you’ll see more like this in your timeline.

Their sole purpose is to maximize the amount of time people spend on their platforms. Because more screen time = more ads seen = more money for shareholders.

Will ignoring the dissent make it go away?

In an ideal world there wouldn’t be any dissent if everybody refused to argue and just starved the whole thing of oxygen but that’s just not going to happen because we’re not wired like that.

Neuroscience has offered some evidence-based claims that can be uncomfortable because they challenge our notions of morality or debunk the myth about our ‘rational’ brain.

This a a quote from Wikipedia

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values. It is an important type of cognitive bias that has a significant effect on the proper functioning of society by distorting evidence-based decision-making.

People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. For example, a person may cherry-pick empirical data that supports one’s belief, ignoring the remainder of the data that is not supportive.

People also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position. The effect is strongest for desired outcomes, for emotionally charged issues, and for deeply entrenched beliefs.

Confirmation biases contribute to overconfidence in personal beliefs and can maintain or strengthen beliefs in the face of contrary evidence.

But we’re right, aren’t we?

Well, we believe we are. But clearly, other people have different beliefs, and if one thing is abundantly clear, rational arguments have never changed a strongly held belief.

Societies can legislate against discrimination, hate speech, harassment and intimidation and that might change how people behave if they think they’re going to get caught but it doesn’t change their beliefs.

Anonymity is a big issue on social media sites. There are good arguments for and against and its not going to  get to get sorted anytime soon.

Play your own game

The social media platforms want us to play their game.

Influencers of all shades and shapes want us to play theirs.

No matter how good your intentions, if you become a keyboard warrior, you’re a pawn in their games.

If you have your own reasons for using social media sites, whether its for marketing your business, networking, connecting with friends, discovering new things, having fun or spreading good news; stick to your own game.  Don’t get sucked in to the faux arguments, the manufactured conflict, the too obvious click bait.

If you want to champion a cause, do it with your eyes open, knowing you will attract people who want to tell you you’re wrong and who believe very different things to you. Do it knowing that this is not the place to try to change minds or hearts, and that you are likely to get bruised.

Or choose a different way to be a champion. The less public ways are usually much more effective and they don’t make you a pawn in someone else’s game.

This is just how I think and how I choose to use social media … tell me what you think (there are no algorithms at play here!)



1 reply
  1. Helen Lindop
    Helen Lindop says:

    Always good to have a reminder that algorithms reward content that gets attention rather than accuracy or quality – thanks Ann!

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