A guide: What to post on social media when something terrible just happened

photo by me, Sarandë, Albania

Trigger warningStudies have found that trigger warnings do not work. Still, if you’ve experienced trauma and were further traumatized by the shocking lack of support by the people around you (parents, friends, strangers in the street that heard you screaming and did nothing), and if this is something relatively new you’re dealing with (I’m so sorry), I’d advise against reading this article now.

There are fewer things that people agree on as much as the feeling of disgust.

You can love what someone else hates with a passion: neon green, hiking, cilantro, Germany.

When we come across something disgusting, though, the feeling is usually shared between all types of people despite their age, gender or nationality.

It’s one of the most natural things, a reflex almost. While love and hate are complex emotions, often strongly impacted by our lived experiences—which WILDLY vary—looking at something disgusting, feeling disgust, and saying “Ewww” to ourselves or out loud is a very normal, across-the-board, easily replicable event in a clinical setting.

A bird pooped on Elsa’s head. Elsa just touched the poop. As if it was a styling cream, Elsa is now spreading the poop all over her hair. Ewww! Why? Why is she doing that?

Show me something disgusting. Show it to someone else. 9 times out of 10, we’ll have the same reaction. Eww. Why? Eww.

If you were on Tumblr circa 2009, you probably remember a discourse that spanned a few months and went on about the realization that more people bond over shared hate than over shared love of something.

In 2006, Jeniffer Bosson et al published a paper titled Interpersonal chemistry through negativity: Bonding by sharing negative attitudes about others.

While the Tumblr squad was a little late to the game, we had a point.

Long story short, being a hater in close proximity to someone else who’s also being a hater promotes feelings of familiarity. We’re literally telling the other person we like them and trust them enough to show them this “dark” part of ourselves, the one that’s a full-time hating ass bitch.*

*I just finished reading Samantha Irby’s “Meaty.” I can already tell you this article will go down like sandpaper if you mind profanity. Sam has made me realize I don’t say shit, fuck, and bitch nearly as often as I should.

13 years ago, when I saw that on Tumblr, I found it groundbreaking. It made so much sense. Some of my closest relationships were built on the foundation of hating the same thing(s) the other person hated. For me, these often included music taste, fashion style, maturity (lmaooo), and someone’s appetite for rebellious/non-conforming behavior.

We’d joke about these things relentlessly on our Facebook walls and in MSN Messenger chat rooms and IRL. Many of my friends had met their partners or other friends the same way.

I’m not sure if I was disciplined enough to stop doing that shit right away or even had the self-awareness to realize that this was A Bad Thing I needed to act on rather than a handy tidbit I could share if a conversation steered to “deep” territory. Granted, my concept of depth back then was, umm, age-appropriate even though I thought I was soooo mature and profound (hence the lmaooo).

Whether we like it or not, sharing negative attitudes about others is a bonding experience.

So, if you want a constant stream of disgusting, awful things injected straight to your bloodstream, no shot, chaser, where do you go? On your phone! Or your turn on the TV. Same faeces, different device.

I’ve already written about how I handle the news and every bad thing in the world. I’ve also written about what to do when everything’s fucked. If you haven’t read those, I highly recommend doing that first & then returning to this piece later. I’m not going anywhere. Yeah, yeah, I’ll wait right here. Actually, I started this as a standalone piece so I’m not sure why I’m telling you to read other things first. You do you. I trust you. It’s past midnight, I’ve been working all day, and I’m intoxicated. (<- I started writing on Thursday night, it’s Sunday morning as I’m editing… and I’m on the beach.)

Today, I want to talk about bad things that happen, the small and the big tragedies and virtue signaling and how social media is ruining our gastrointestinal tract.

Something like that.

We’re still bonding over hate. We’re still a little like 2009 Delfina (no shade to her), meaning that we lack the awareness to notice this shit is bad and it’s hurting me and it’s hurting you and everyone else and there’s gotta be another way.

Do you share posts about rape, incest, animal abuse, or that absurdly cruel thing X said?

If after posting something that could potentially ruin someone’s day, you don’t provide tips, resources, or next steps you recommend we take, that’s just virtue signaling and I want us all to be on the same page that it’s not helping anyone.

What’s virtue signaling?

shit I love: finding how a feeling/state is called

It helps tremendously because it signifies 3 things:

  1. Reassurance – Having a name for something means this is a “legit” feeling/phenomenon that thousands, if not millions, of others, have felt or witnessed.
  2. Science-backed – If so many people experienced something to the point that it needed a name, this usually means that at least 1 person has dedicated their life to studying this in-depth and they came up with ways to diagnose the thing, a list of common causes, and they probably looked into actions we can actively take to affect—change/reduce/increase—The Thing.
  3. Ability to share – It’s easier to explain something when The Thing has a name. It’s easier for the person listening to remember a specific term than my 3-minute explanation. The person can google The Thing afterward and learn more at their leisure. In future conversations, it’s easier for the person to refer to the term. Plus, #1, it makes it more legit aka talking about it’s more effortless, see: managing up, orgasm gap, glass ceiling, etc.

If you care about a cause and not just about showing others on social media that you care, please take an extra minute to provide your followers with something, anything, that you recommend we do:

  • Can we email a state representative to request change?
  • Can we donate someplace?
  • Is there a YouTube video you recommend we watch to become better equipped to handle the situation if we were there?
  • Is someone organizing a protest? When and where?
  • Are they looking for volunteers?

Making people feel helpless doesn’t help. It only desensitizes us further.

Mix our innate reflex against revolting things, virtue signaling, being desensitized to tragedies, and Bosson’s study (bonding by sharing negative attitudes) and I think we have a winning recipe for the shit cocktail that is social media’s inescapable echo chamber.

These obviously apply to real life too. It’s natural to jump in the hate and the helplessness, to contribute to the echo chamber. However, I started writing this article with social media in mind because of how depressing that space gets when something awful happens…in ways that talking about the same thing with a friend for an hour isn’t.

You want to raise awareness, but at the same time, you don’t want to contribute to people becoming desensitized to the point where injustice and tragedy don’t make a lasting impression on them just because they’ve become so used to injustice and tragedy.

What can we do?

Earlier, I pointed to what I think is part of the solution: action. (“If you care about a cause and not just about showing others on social media that you care, please take an extra minute to provide your followers with something, anything, that you recommend we do.”)

If you’re Albanian, you might’ve heard of or experienced firsthand what that one animal rights organization is like. They basically bully their followers and the people who send in tips about abuse or stray animals. Compassion fatigue is a thing, I’m well aware, but damn.

Many social media-first organizations or influencers who cover heavy topics only seem to offer us their rage which is unfortunately often misplaced. These are the ones I have the biggest issue with.

I don’t expect everyone with a personal account to have the time or mental energy to provide resources whenever they share something awful they saw online when they’re juggling work/school/kids/life.

I also don’t want to promote toxic positivity and tell you to “focus on the bright side.” A kid was raped. A dog was tortured. There’s no bright side. It fucking sucks and there’s that. It’s okay to feel lost and helpless and hate the whole world.

Before closing, I’d like to share some brilliant points/recommendations from the book I’m reading: Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Amelia Nagoski and Emily Nagoski. I was at the beach yesterday when I read this part and immediately knew I had to include it in this article. (Don’t you love this stuff? Coming across the perfect thing at the perfect moment? No wonder I believe in miracles.)

The authors suggest that there are 2 main types of stressors: the ones we can control and the ones we can’t. (Sounds familiar?)

“You can manage frustration by using planful problem-solving for stressors you can control, and positive reappraisal for stressors you can’t control.

For example, the frustration of being stuck in traffic can be minimized with a GPS giving you a new route to go around the traffic. All you need to do is make sure you’ve got the GPS handy. This strategy is called planful problem-solving.

If you carry a purse laden with the complete contents of a drugstore, you already know about planful problem-solving. If you write lists, keep calendars, or follow a budget, you know what planful problem-solving entails. It does what it says on the label: you analyze the problem, you make a plan based on your analysis, and then you execute the plan.”

For stressors you can’t control, the authors suggest positive reappraisal:

“…it’s not as simple as “look on the bright side” or “find the silver lining” or “enjoy the journey.” Nor is it about not feeling frustrated by the persistent gap between what is and what could or should be. Nor does it mean sticking your fingers in your ears and going, “La la la, nothing is wrong, everything is fine!”

With positive reappraisal, you can acknowledge when things are difficult, and you recognize that the difficulty is worth it—it is, in fact, an opportunity.

How to do that? Glad you asked.

“First, acknowledge when things are difficult; then, acknowledge that the difficulty is worth it. Pessimists assume everything is hard and will require work, so that’s easy. The hard part is acknowledging that those difficulties are actually opportunities. But positive reappraisal works because it’s genuinely true that difficulties are opportunities! When something feels uncomfortable, you’re probably doing something that creates more and better progress than if it were easy. […] Students whose assigned reading is typed in an ugly, difficult-to-read font remember more of what they read in the short term and score higher on exams in the longer term than those whose materials are more legible.”

TL;DR?

Put your oxygen mask on first. In a literal sense, this means that in case of an emergency during a flight, you should put your own oxygen mask on first, then help others, because otherwise you’ll run out of oxygen and won’t be really able to help others or yourself anymore because you’ll be d e a d.

For our purposes, this means if something on the news is depressing or triggering to you, don’t feel like you have to act/find and provide resources for others. Don’t think of planful problem solving or positive reappraisal. Just take extra care of yourself until you feel yourself again.

If you’re able to, before sharing something stomach-turning, take a moment to reflect on potential ways you and your followers/friends may be able to help. Besides posting the news to your Story to raise awareness, what would help a person who was abused, a country that’s battling natural disasters, and all the ones like them?

So many impactful organizations were founded by people who felt disgusted and frustrated and wanted to do something. Anything. You may be that next person to impact a generation and help thousands of people.

One single action from one single person is minuscule in the grand scheme of things. But it’s invaluable when YOU are all you can control and you influence me and I influence you more than we’ll ever know. Something something social psychology. 

A thought just popped into my head. In a true full circle, movie scene-like turn of events, it’s a quote that was big on Tumblr back in the day that I must’ve retweeted like 5 times. It fits perfectly.

“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”

Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

Similarly, while…

Actually, I think you know where I’m getting at (that the opposite is true as well) so I’ll leave you with the hostile snowflakes.

emoji mix of the snowflake emoji and the angry emoji, credit to emoji mix by tikolu
Yes, I just spent a minute on emojimix mixing the snowflake emoji & the “Face with Symbols on Mouth” emoji

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