Recently, Instagram introduced a new algorithm which sends the pictures uploaded by the people you most often interact with (*cough* stalk relentlessly *cough*) to the top of the ‘newsfeed’; in contrast to its previous chronologically prioritised order.
While participating in my usual nightly routine of a quick scroll (one hour minimum) on Insta, I noticed a somewhat disturbing pattern in regards to what the application now deemed my ‘most consumed’ content.
The first image that popped onto my screen in this particular scrolling experience was from archetypal mean girl Bachelor contestant, Cat – warranting an eye roll and screenshot to later gossip with my friends about – but nothing to raise an eyebrow about, the next photo was from Dan Bilzerian – a sexist playboy who ALSO promotes the use of leisure artillery (could he tick any more boxes, I mean….gah, goals!), then a video review on a moisturiser by a girl I knew in high school whose failed attempts to be an ‘Insta-Influencer’ I’ve critically analysed for the past 5 years, all the while followed by countless uploads from a variety of Kardashian silver-spoon dynasty descendants. An unavoidable pattern was beginning to emerge…
Image: To clarify… This is Dan Bilzerian a.k.a The Man That An Algorithm Deemed My 2nd Most Looked At Account To Recently Upload
As I continued to scroll, photo after photo after god damn photo, I was fronted with uploads from people I actually… sort of… hated?
A realisation moment was banging at my front door, but I tried to shut it out – wildly scrolling in hope I’d see an image from a person I actually enjoyed in the real world pop up (never ever did I think I’d be longing to see one of my mum’s lame ‘live, love, laugh’ pixelated safari search screenshot uploads, but alas here I was).
I was one more Love Island contestant upload away from a mental breakdown. What did this all mean?
Was I just a sick twisted individual that had come to love following the lives of people she hated more than the ones she cared about? I could envision it now, 20 years’ time, at the trial for a murder I’d committed – detailing the moment I had realised I was a sociopath…. “I used to be an okay kid..at least till I started following that bit*$ from the Bachelor, that’s when it all went downhill.”
Dramatics aside, as I always do when experiencing some sort of existential crisis that questions my quality of being, my friends became a refuge for my problem – surely, I couldn’t be the only one out there who is more obsessed with following the lives of the people they hate, more than the ones they love? Unanimously they all agreed to my joy (but also low key concern), one even coming late to the conversation, admitting she had ‘literally just been judging people on an anti-vaccination thread for the past hour’.
The internet solidified this notion further, with a plethora of articles coining the trend as a social phenomenon known as the ‘hate-follow’.
The people that we ‘hate-follow’ get under our skin. They behave in ways we never would consider as socially acceptable for ourselves in the real world — or even on Twitter/Instagram or Facebook for that matter — so when we see them act in these ways, it makes us want to reach through our computer screens and slap them. And yet, you and I, we don’t click unfollow to cure this stewing rage of hate, but instead continue to follow them, and more closely than most others. Like……what?
But as always, there lies logic in such odd psychological trends. Researchers, for instance, have observed that gaining Facebook “likes” or Instagram “likes” or retweets, or whatever—getting those #numbers, basically—lights up the same neural pathway rewards as an addiction to cocaine. Which is sort of eerie to think our reward centres can be so easily tricked into a sense of pleasure… making me wonder if hate-following casts a similarly drugged-up glow. Which then makes it more conceivable that hate-following holds the potential to create a false sense of power over the people we see “doing life wrong” (according to our own predilections).
According to Dr. Jay Van Bavel, assistant professor of social psychology at New York University, it makes sense that people hate-follow rather than just unfollow. “If it really is motivated by ‘hate,’ the reason may be because hate is associated with ‘approach motivation,’” or a desire to experience a positive outcome, said Van Bavel. “We have unpublished research in our lab showing that people feel the need to confront people or issues that they hate, addiction to chaos – whereas they avoid things they merely dislike.”
This sort of ideology is supported by psychologists like Leon Festinger’s social comparison theory, which states that humans have an innate need to compare themselves to those around them. Push another thumbtack into a study released last year by Iqra University, which found that, “One hour spent on Facebook daily results in a 5.574 decrease in the self-esteem score of an individual.” Bridge the red thread of conspiracy of the two prior observations to research that came out of Ohio State University in 2014 that found that people feeling vulnerable are more likely to seek out the profiles of those they deem as “less than” in some regard.
Throw in evidence of social media’s addictive quality, and the counterplot funnels nicely into a singular truth: Social media feeds off of vanity and insecurity, it is, in the most simplest of terms: an efficient feedback loop for the dissatisfied masses, one where pityingly sighing at a constant stream of stupid content, like that of the Kardashians or Bilzerians of the world, only increases our appetite for more.
So, what was once an activity that grounded itself in following certain unlikable figures on Twitter or Instagram as being one of innocence and merely letting off a little steam or capturing a momentary boost to the ego; becomes more of an issue about an explicit budding cultural addiction to drama (that ain’t too kind on our mental health either).
I’m not saying you should go and cull every person that falls under the category of a fellow ‘hate-follow’, no not at all – part of me feels like it gives us something to brace against, it keeps us honest. Following people from all walks of life (even the ones we don’t like so much, I’m looking at you Nick Cummins) allows us to have a more diverse understanding of people, otherwise we would soon become complacent, smug and isolated — we would become the people we hate-follow.
After researching this topic I have come to the realisation it is important to become aware of this social trend, and avoid falling into the toxic trap of consuming too much content from the people you dislike to the point that it overrides your TRUE homies content. As it’s within that scope that it has a negative impact on our mental health.
I myself have just unfollowed a handful of the ample amount of accounts that cue an eye-roll when I see their content, and I won’t lie it’s actually refreshing to check my phone and see content from friends and family and people that DON’T BOIL MY BLOOD! I mean, isn’t that what social media should be utilised for, to be social with people you want to remain connected too?
Give it a thought…