Social Media Types That Emerge While We’re All Paying Attention to The Same Thing

ImageIn the 21st century, we’ve observed the dissolution of whatever was left of monoculture, or the perceived monoculture. We consume media whenever is convenient for us, in whatever channel we’re feeling at the moment. And as such, we don’t experience cultural events en masse, as a society, on a synched schedule, the way we did during the golden age of broadcast media.

Except when there’s breaking news of a national tragedy, or an event that millions and millions of people perceive as a tragedy. That’s when our media consumption schedules all lock together, and suddenly we’re all reacting to the same stimuli. And naturally, we immediately turn to Facebook and Twitter, where we can work through our thoughts and emotions in real time before an audience of several hundred of our closest friends and acquaintances.

And no matter what’s brought us together on social media in these particularly loaded moments, patterns emerge in the ways we react, and over time, we can predict how certain people we know will react. Some basic types:

The ombudsman. Doesn’t say much while events are unfolding. A day or so later, posts an emotionally distanced analysis of what everyone else’s reactions say about where we are as a society. (In other words: this post.)

The pop historian. Shares a link to a YouTube video for an appropriate song for the moment, because there’s an appropriate song for everything.

The activist. Posts links to nakedly subjective political blogs and online petitions, photos from the scene where news is breaking or from protests, status updates and Tweets from similarly-minded people, and lengthy or frequent observations about how the current news is really about larger, long-standing issues.

The feeler. Expresses, in a series of status updates, fear, vulnerability, sadness, empathy, hope, etc. Often exhibits sharing habits similar to the activist, but instead of tying that shared content to more macro sociopolitical issues, explains how that content makes her/him feel, and how it relates to his/her own life.

The troll. Observes how friends and acquaintances have reacted, then takes an opposing stance. Frames the tragedy as a sort of comeuppance for the victim(s), or for society at large. Gets off on the attention and doesn’t actually believe much of what s/he is saying.

The reactionary. Behaves almost exactly like the troll, except the reactionary really believes what s/he’s saying and probably adds Ayn Rand references.

The escapist. Posts observations about how, whatever happens, nothing has changed, recent events tell us nothing new about our society, nothing will change, and no one’s reactions actually matter. Reserves emotions for movies and TV, and will post about those subjects shortly.

The God-botherer. Recommends prayer as a solution.

The obliviant. Shares updates/Tweets/photos relating to decadent meals, the beach, bike rides, landscape and greenery, and so on. Is enjoying “best day ever!!!!!”

What am I missing? What other patterns of response have you observed in the wake of one of those rare events that brings us all to the same page as a society?


About Brian

"About you," it says? This whole THING is about me.
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4 Responses to Social Media Types That Emerge While We’re All Paying Attention to The Same Thing

  1. clarapy says:

    Are you going all Thought Catalogue list-y style on me, Monsieur LaRue? 😉 That’s okay, it’s fun. I like this list. I think you’re only missing The Sheep, who either observes how everyone else is reacting and reacts in the same way or just posts trite emotional statements that ignore any political or otherwise potentially controversial aspects of the situation. Perhaps similar to The Feeler but more banal than what you describe. But hey, that’s probably better than the category I fall into, which would be something like the [deliberate] Obliviant. (I think because any acknowledgment of the big news story du jour, in few enough characters for any social media outlet, feels inevitably constrained to one of the categories you articulate here. Winds up just feeling pointless.)

  2. Brian says:

    Hey, Clara! Thanks so much for weighing in. The Sheep is real. That’s a good addition to the list. And you may self-identify as a “Deliberate Obliviant,” but I’m reading that as meaning you’re legitimately deliberating through the whole process — because I know you are. You’re very good at long-form analysis, whether it comes out in the mode of conversation or correspondence or a published essay.

  3. “The God-botherer” ahahahahahahaha.

    But yeah this is basically correct. It’s more or less impossible to write something genuinely unique about an event that captivates society because there are just so many people weighing in (and I use that term in the loosest possible way). The key to rising above the sea of hashtags and well-meaning comments is to either:

    A. be a person who people care what you say. The president may be expressing the same opinion as 80 million other people, but when it’s the president (or some other dignitary of some sort) the words that would seem unnecessary and redundant coming from Joe down the hall suddenly mean a lot more.

    B. express your opinion (and by doing so the opinion of a bunch of other people) in a well-written and/or interesting way. To use Brian’s post as an example, there were, are, and will be scores of people on the internet noting the way social media reacts to national breaking news. But when you have some substance to go with your Incredibly Common Opinion, it suddenly becomes worth my time.

    So that’s a roundabout way of saying that I thoroughly enjoyed this piece.

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