I have seen several bullshit psychology articles floating around lately defending the practice of hate-following. For the uninitiated, hate-following means compulsively following someone on social media that you do not like. As you might imagine, “do not like” is a broad category – it might be because you are jealous of their lifestyle or achievements; you did not get along in real life in the past; you do not share their principles or resent the sort of things they stand for. It’s cyber-stalking with access.
I assume the myriad articles on this topic lately stems from the fact that another election cycle is underway and members of the chattering class are subconsciously realizing that they’ve blown the last four years of their one precious life hate-following President Trump. They’ve graphed the number of typos in his tweets and they’ve fact-checked hero dog memes while other people got married and had babies. It’s not exactly the curriculum vitae of a life well-lived and they probably feel pretty bad about that. They probably realize their audience is not worth bragging about either.
How can they make themselves feel good about this pattern? Oh right, describe hate-following as therapeutic and even edifying. Mother Teresa used to shitpost about Gandhi, you know. It’s totally normal. Good people do it.
In the current issue of Women’s Health – right behind their advice on how bored straight women can “respectfully” experiment with gay dating sites – they argue that taking screenshots of someone’s social media feed and sharing snide comments about them with your friends is cathartic enterprise that might actually help you discover habits to make yourself a better person. As if the 200 comments you’ve made about Sheila’s thighs – she’s probably anorexic, you know – are going to pry the cookie dough ice cream from your hands and drive you to the gym.
I deleted my various social media accounts because it seems like this sort of thing is substantially all the content there is to consume now. Post an article, don’t even read it, shitpost. Post a screenshot of someone you are jealous of, shitpost. Social media are colonies of self-loathing people who do this all day long and people who are merely lurking but also enjoy passively participating in this sort of thing. It truly resembles an asylum now.
Mentally healthy people do not hate-follow. They don’t feel the need to stalk folks who seem to be having it all or strangers with different political opinions. They are out at the beach, reading a book under a tree in a city park, playing with their kids in their spare time. When they need to change, they change. They don’t have to victimize someone else to feel good about themselves.
I have said this many times, but our society needs to stop giving young people objectively terrible ideas about how to function and survive in the world. This is a good example. A man is not going to look at you hate-following a female co-worker on Instagram and think, “Wow, this is someone I should propose to. I want her raising my children. She’s probably going to develop excellent habits some day that I will be proud of.” Instead he’s going to realize he’s dating someone who will eventually be the subject of a restraining order or the future mother of a school shooter and run like hell. This is not evidence of good character. Most people do not want to spend their time around habitual assholes.
So much of our society could be improved if people simply stopped trying to engage folks who did not want to engage them. I’m not even talking about empathy or tolerance, which require sincerely trying to understand where someone is coming from. Just the ability to peacefully coexist in the same space and keep your mouth shut.