We can all name at least a few people who irritate us beyond belief. These people are just so ________ (fill in the blank here), that we can’t even stand to be in the same room with them. From old high school enemies, to new acquaintances that might rub us the wrong way, there are individuals that we do not get along with, and we will do everything in our power to physically avoid them, specifically in a social setting. Social media sites, however, offer a unique exception to our policy of social avoidance. Some of our so-called enemies are actually our “frenemies” as we choose to keep them in our list of online friends.
Why do we do this?
Teddy Wayne, in his piece, “Hate-Reading: Love, to Loathe you, Baby,” explains the existence of these people on our friends and followers list, by providing insight into a common online activity, “hate-reading.” “Hate-reading” of social media “provides satisfaction from fury-fueled engagement with someone who should theoretically not provide it” (Wayne). This type of activity may include a “virtual checkup” of our enemies’ online existence, such as a scroll down a user’s timeline or recent tweets. We might all be guilty of looking through a user’s album filled with pictures from their fun-filled weekend and assuring ourselves that we had a better time, or that they looked bad in that outfit, or that they are just trying too hard. “Hate-reading” is usually accompanied by feelings of anger and eventual satisfaction or unhappiness, depending on the findings. By keeping these users on our newsfeeds, we maintain the ability to communicate with them although we are physically separate, which highlights “disembodiment” as described by Don Slater in “Social Relationships and Identity Online and Offline.” Geographic location bears no importance once we log on to any SNS. This means their posts still have some affect on us, yet we chose to keep them around in a virtual setting where they may be considered, as Caroline Haythornthwaite writes, a “weak tie” (“Social Networks and Internet Connectivity Effects, 138). Social media “create weak ties by initiating social contact between otherwise unconnected others” (Haythornwaite 137). The results of this connectivity can either be comforting or aggravating, as Wayne goes on to explain.
He describes that this behavior is fueled by one’s longing for an ego-boost. One “hate-reader” on his frequent check ups writes, “I don’t know why else I’d go to his page except the hope that I’ll see something bad or narcissistic,” (“Hate-Reading: Love, to Loathe you, Baby”). Although indirect, this weak tie bears some “social capital” as Nancy Baym would say, since “esteem support” is present, even if the target had no intention of doing so (“Personal Connections in the Digital Age, 84). Whether it’s rummaging through photos, scrolling through posts, or browsing through liked pages, “hate-readers” find the negatives in their enemies’ posts, in order to make themselves feel superior. Perhaps the comfort one receives from this odd connection is worth keeping them around. Wayne, however, mainly focuses on the downside of these check-ups.
He includes another quote from a “hate-reader” on her target, underscoring the negative effects of the behavior:
“I don’t know why it infuriates me,” said Ms. Sanders, 31, a freelance book publicist. “She’ll often describe, say, how her favorite ice cream flavor makes her happy all day. I feel like she’s lying. I get upset watching people post pictures of a rainbow that says ‘I believe in magic’ — upset that they’re projecting that image and thinking others are falling for it, or that they’re falling for it themselves. Maybe I’m just jealous.”
Wayne, although hinting at this idea, should have further noted that these constant positive posts are not an accurate portrayal of one’s life or identity. The affordances of media allow for the user to create an identity separate from their true self in the offline world. Mike Wesch, as explained in “An Anthropological Introduction to Youtube,” would point out that SNSs grant users the opportunity to craft the way they present themselves. There is room for lack of authenticity online, meaning users’ online presences can be drastically different from their offline persona. Wayne should have kept this in mind while concentrating on “hate-readers’’” anger with the happiness of their targets.
Additionally, our “frenemies” might know exactly what they’re doing. They might be posting extravagant photos of their night out, heartwarming status updates about their perfect family, or tweets about their amazing romantic getaway with us in mind. Zizi Papacharissi examines how SNSs such as Twitter are platforms upon which our presentations of self “become networked performances” (“Without You, I’m Nothing: Performances of the Self on Twitter” 1). Users are extremely aware of their audiences and think of their readers constantly before posting. While checking up on someone, users should be aware that the posts they come across could very well be updated specifically for them to find. An amazing photo of your ex’s new girlfriend may be put up on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to purposely infuriate you.
Wayne constructed an article that touched upon something almost all social media users do, but don’t necessarily admit. He brought up an online activity that we may not even realize we do on a regular basis. His argument, however, should have touched upon “hate-reading” in a “uni-directional context,” as explained by Ellison and Boyd in “Social Relationships and Identity Online and Offline,” where one user is “following” another, without being followed back (156). He should have included instances where users aren’t “friends” on Facebook, and don’t follow each other on Instagram, yet a lack of privacy settings allow for “hate-reading” to take place. This would prove we still engage in this activity whether or not we are part of their online community.
I was also very intrigued by Wayne’s comment on hate-reading your own friends. While SNSs may help us maintain our “strong ties,” as stated by Caroline Haythornwaite, they may also result in their destruction. I hadn’t realized that reading your close friends’ posts could make you question the validity of their offline selves. Sometimes the language they use, the topics they write about, or the photos they upload are so unlike the “real” them, that you question if they are simply performing, or showing other sides of their authentic selves. Our online identity can result in a disconnection between two strong social ties.