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Social media as a growth culture for opinions

Back in March, David wrote about the art of not having opinions. He talked about the social pressure for us to have lots of opinions, even if we don’t need them, because we use opinions as a bonding activity; as a way to sort people into different groups.

His post struck a chord with me, and I’ve been thinking about how social media compels us to have more opinions.

If you scroll through Twitter, you’re bombarded with opinions, and as humans we’re prone to copy the behaviour of people we see around us. For any topic, there are people who care strongly about it, and they’re going to tweet their thoughts to the world. The people who don’t care about it will be much quieter. Even if the chatty ones are a tiny minority of Twitter users as a whole, that’s what we see most of, and that’s the behaviour we emulate.

This isn’t a new problem – people with opinions have always been more prominent than those without – but compared to pre-internet life, social media massively increases the number of people we can hear from. I can read dozens of new opinions before I’ve even had breakfast, and it amplifies the urge to have my own.

A few years ago, I started to notice a nagging sensation to tweet about the topic de jour. Everyone I followed was sharing their opinion about something, and I felt compelled to add my own thoughts to the mix. What would my followers think if I didn’t express my outrage/enthusiasm/anger about the latest event? (The reality is that nobody would notice, but that didn’t make the feeling go away.)

I didn’t like this sensation, and it led me to trying to dial back my opinions. I still tweet plenty, but I try not to tweet something just so I can say I had an opinion about it.

To help me have less opinions, I’ve tried to be more selective about who I follow, and to have a better balance of discussion and whimsy. If you mostly post low-stakes opinions and photos of your pet? Worth a follow. If it’s wall-to-wall discourse and outrage? Close the tab.

I mostly use social media as a leisure activity, and as a way to chat to my friends, but that doesn’t mean I should use it mindlessly. Being more careful and conscious about my social media consumption has made me happier while using it.