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Antisocial Media Accelerates Outrage

December 3rd, 2020 by dk

What is real and what is not? What is social and what is not? These questions have been stirring in me this week after driving upriver with a Blue River neighbor to check on things just before Thanksgiving.

The fireplaces of Blue River are now exposed for all to see. What had been the family’s private hearth — often at the center of their home — is now all you can see from a distance. Each one is different, customized for its owners’ warmth and comfort. But all of them are the same, standing tall as sentinels over a landscape that has otherwise been reduced to its lowest carbon denominator.

They might not remain forever. Those who rebuild may heat their homes differently. Many are probably not safe to put back into service. Some will be toppled by shifting soil or hurried cleanup. None of that has happened yet.

I posted to a social media group dedicated to the Blue River community an idea that my neighbor and I hatched during our trip. The chimneys and fireplaces of Blue River would be a fascinating theme for a fundraising calendar.

The response has been mixed. Around 100 people thought it was a good idea and they would probably buy one. Around 100 other people were adamantly opposed and wondered whether my mother had dropped me on my head as an infant. Circles formed to question my judgment and character, and whether I could be removed from the group for promoting “disaster porn.”

I understand the detractors’ concern. I had neglected to add that each property owner would have to grant permission first. Voyeurism would be an insult added to an injury. People continue to grieve and each of us does this in our own way. It wasn’t interpreted as hopeful enough to represent a community in diaspora.

It wasn’t my best idea ever. Throw it on the heap with solar-powered windshield wipers and inflatable dartboards. I’m holding firm to believe that most good ideas are simply bad ones that got improved. Maybe something good will come of it eventually.

What I find remarkable and worrying is how quickly and naturally those who opposed the idea bonded with one another and accelerated their grievances. Those who were outraged fed off each other, speculating about my motives or my upbringing or my mother’s sure-handedness.

I roused a rabble, but oddly, only on one side. Each positive response was essentially one-and-done. Echoing something observed by columnist David Brooks this week, online outrage builds camaraderie with astonishing efficiency.

Negative thoughts and feelings seemed to accelerate much more quickly, spreading (if I might say) like wildfire. Is that the site’s algorithm at work, or is it just how we humans are wired? Worse still, does the algorithm mimic the brain’s wiring, making each participant’s response more intractable? Addressing that problem will require a whole lot more than a fundraising calendar.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at Lane Library League’s fundraiser for rebuilding the Blue River library will remain open for only another week or so. If you’d like to contribute, visit:

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