In the contentious world that the internet can become, phrases like “don’t like, don’t read” and “you can always unfollow” are often said.
They are also frequently ignored.
It’s not uncommon for people to sometimes spend as much time online looking at articles, blogs and social media profiles that make them angry and impassioned as they do following something they completely agree with. Over the years, that activity has been coined as “hate reading.”
Is it addictive? Probably.
Is it destructive? Opinions can differ.
WHY WE DO IT
Lauren Beacham, one of the founders of the local chapter of the Democrat-geared happy hour Drinking Liberally said for her, hate reading started to take up multiple hours of the day in the weeks following January’s presidential inauguration. Ultimately she said it became so mentally unhealthy that she needed to break the cycle.
“It felt like a nonstop flood of chaos that I couldn’t look away from,” Beacham said, adding it ultimately gave her the feeling of “level 11 pissed off all the time.”
She said she now looks at more conservative slanted websites once a week with the intention of challenging her own opinions or seeing how another side is reacting to the news.
Cyndi Schaff, who organizes a similar happy hour for local Republicans, said there are some blogs she reads “mostly for giggles.” For the sake of research, she also regularly checks social media pages of people with opposing viewpoints. Schaff said she tries to avoid leaving comments or responding since it’s so hard to detect tone online and it rarely changes someone’s opinion anyway. She’ll only respond if she has something more concrete like a law article or a video, she said.
Hate reading does not only apply to politics. Kelly Madrone, who has led Frederick-based workshops on compassion between opposing viewpoints, said she sees hate reading with parenting, religion and food. An example being the website Get Off My Internets, which has forums where users can bond over their dislike of various blogs. Individual categories include lifestyle, mommy/daddy issues, fashion and beauty, and healthy living blogs.
“These days, if it’s possible to have a different opinion on something, people will get worked up about it,” Madrone said.
On some level, Madrone thinks people are drawn are drawn to the excitement of a conflict and are also reflecting the fear and anxiety that’s present in society in general. The ideas of compromise, listening and showing empathy are often idealized but rarely displayed, Madrone said.
“We’re kind of binging on negativity at the moment,” she said.
There’s also a feeling of self satisfaction when it comes to hate reading, Michael Southers, a Frederick-based therapist, said. Rather than hate reading to break out of their bubble, Southers said people are probably more interested making their bubble even stronger.
He said when it comes to any kind of conflict, there’s a cycle of getting worked up and angry, then going to like-minded people and having your viewpoints supported, and ultimately having the satisfaction of knowing that you were right all along. Like sports, he said there’s a notion of “my team” and “the bad team.”
Even when compromise or middle ground is attempted, Southers said people will usually go back to their own side, especially on social media when others can chime in.
“There’s no acknowledgment of ‘That’s a good point, period.’ It’s always ‘That’s a good point, but, ’” Southers said.
It’s also easy to bond over shared hatred, he said. It gives people something instant to have in common which starts conversation and can be built upon. Dislike makes people passionate, which means the relationship can form faster, he said.
Southers isn’t alone in this belief as there’s now a dating app called “Hater” with categories including slow walkers, paying extra for guacamole and President Donald Trump.
WHEN TO STOP
While there is a feeling of exhilaration that comes with conflict and carries over into hate reading, sometimes that feeling isn’t worth it. Southers said that problem starts when people become dehumanized. This especially happens once sides start name-calling.
“It should always be about the content rather than the person,” he said.
As a liberal Democrat, Josh Cramer said he tries to avoid both the far right and the far left since the material seems to be the most instant and emotional. He said he also always reads primary source documentation before seeing people’s opinions on it.
“I personally really like and enjoy when my perception is challenged,” he said.
Being “a hater” can mean acknowledging anger and venting, which Madrone said is healthy to an extent, but a line should be drawn.
This could mean limiting social media time or belonging to a small handful of sites but not others. Also consider if you are snapping at people easily or letting small things bother you, she said.
When looking at something you know you disagree with or could anger you, Madrone said she prefers the approach of “I’m clearly in a bubble; let me educate myself” or “What is it from the other side that I’m missing?”