You would expect that most "tweets" would be expressions of love and appreciation toward one another, right? Wrong. At least that's the finding of a new study of the Chinese social network Weibo; that's a platform resembling Twitter and boasting "twice as many users." They conclude that the most "influential emotion in online interactions" is anger. What does this reveal about the social media, and why it seems easier to "rage" at a screen than directly to a person?
Beihang University researchers examined 70 million Weibo "tweets" over six months; they were sorted into the emotional categories of "anger, joy, sadness, and disgust." While sadness and disgust didn't appear to trigger sympathetic response, happy tweets did instigate joyful responses among its recipients. But interestingly, rage or anger was most prevalent, creating a ripple effect of negativity; i.e. one angry message sparked the same emotion in the recipient, who in turn spread the venom to still others.
Some have implied that this phenomenon reveals China's Media mindset as opposed to Western twitter community. The study team seems to view this as a way to explain how "societal unrest spreads in China." But this situation is more profound and universal than the political and cultural behavior of two Continents.
What's the concern here? Evidently there's a fear of an epidemic of anger across the Globe, where myriads of people will negatively influence multitudes. In fact, psychologists have known for some time that "moods spread from person to person." In fact, this correlation is so powerful in social media, that studies have likened online emotions to "infectious disease." What about that? This implies that one angry person can wreck the mood and well-being of another. Think of the untold damage that's already been done in the domestic arena, and still spreading. Rather than "domestic tranquility" capturing our daily news, it's a constant barrage of family anger and violence.
By the same token, the more presence one has on social media, the more powerful is the potential effect. The power-hungry and diabolical Adolph Hitler spread his "Third Reich" propaganda to every German without internet access! Such people still lurk in the shadows of society, propagating their venom across the planet with lightning speed. The coming prophetic world- dictatorship of the "Anti-Christ," the epitome of evil, no longer defies explanation. Technology, while neutral in itself, will be used in a reign of political and religious terror. That's scary!
Researchers have long been concerned about "the Internet's ability to magnify negative emotions." It must be quickly said that the Internet has no such "ability" in and of itself. Just like the computer slogan, "garbage in, garbage out," indicates some human at the keyboard. So an angry person is sure to reveal himself, especially if his "tweet" is anonymous. The study further showed that feelings of stress, anxiety, and anger were acted out more intensely and frequently online than would be the case in person. This is significant.
The implications of this study are far-reaching in understanding human nature. Psychologists seem content in relegating their science to "behavior;" but the word "psychology" really means "a study of the psyche" (soul or mind). A person does what he does because of what he is in his heart. A happy heart produces happy behavior; but a rebellious and angry heart will be acted out accordingly. This study bemoans the fact that so many people "feel more comfortable being angry online than they do in person, and anger is more likely to spread among users than any other emotion."
The only "remedy" given by this Chinese study is "to reexamine our online habits and perhaps change them for the better." That might be good advice if we could change our rebellious nature. Granted, anger over injustices can be a good response, but that's not the thrust of this study. Having taught psychology for a number of years, I have never seen a textbook that addresses the nature of man. On the other hand, God's "psychology" text, the Bible, says "the heart is deceitful, and desperately wicked, who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9) Cain, the first baby born, murdered his brother Abel in a fit of rage! (Genesis 4) The rest is history.
Yes, feelings of anger spread more rapidly than love , especially when there's no accountability. It's been said that more wounds have been afflicted by the edge of the tongue than by the edge of the sword. One day, words spoken in secret, will "be shouted from the rooftops." Future accountability is inevitable.
Changing one's nature or heart is impossible to man, but not to God. The Messiah came on the first Christmas to make that change possible by His sacrificial death on the Cross. (John 3:16) Thankfully, the personal reality of hope and love is still possible in an angry world.
Finnigan is a Howland resident. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org