Why Do People "Like" Horrible Things On Facebook?

Is okay to freak out at my friends for sharing horrible, gross images to get me to donate money to a cause? Plus, iMessage read receipts: on or off with your crush?

Why do people feel compelled to “like” terribly sad and horrific things on Facebook for a good cause? For example, I signed in one day and was idly scrolling down until I found myself staring at a giant photo of a burned baby. Yes. Very sad and awful, but OH MY GOD, THE IMAGE IS SEARED INTO MY HEAD FOREVER AND AHHHHH. Am I the guilty party for mentally freaking out about the infant or should the friend who decided to show support (money donated for every “like”) be held responsible for inflicting a traumatizing visual on unwilling parties?

I’ve been letting this question sit open on my desktop for a while now. Reading it, grimacing, leaving it, and coming back to it with a few fingers in front of my face but still peering through them to reread it again. I imagine this might be a similar reaction to the one you had when you first saw the picture!

I am going to speak of Facebook “like” fundraising in general, because if I talk about a burned baby specifically my defense mechanism makes me imagine, like, a baby on fire? Like Nicholas Cage in Ghost Rider, but a baby. (???) It’s horrible of me, but I cannot stop it. So, um, speaking of tragedies in general, I don’t really think either of you is necessarily wrong IN THEORY. You are a person who doesn’t want to see graphic images when you’re logging onto Facebook to spy (admit it) on your ex. Your friend is a person who “liked” a horrible picture because s/he wanted to be supportive of another friend’s tragedy. As far as fundraising goes, putting people in the position of “liking” a burned baby is sort of awkward for everyone involved. But if it’s there already … what else are you supposed to do?

If it were ME doing the fundraising for … let’s say, my headless turtle, I would a) not be fundraising for a headless turtle because that doesn’t make ANY sense, but this is just an illustrative example and b) probably just write a status or something about it? I guess I just don’t think “Please help my grotesquely headless turtle by ‘liking’ this status!” is going to result in a lot of “pics or it didn’t happen!” responses. I mean, did someone hear about the burned baby and go, “Well, I don’t know if I buy THIS!” This is why I left this question alone for a while; it brings up too many questions I don’t want answered. So, writer: like the picture, or don’t. Either is okay. Fundraisers: keep highly personal and graphic pictures to yourself, unless someone asks to see them. If that happens, cease contact with that person immediately, because s/he is a sociopath.

iMessage read notifications with a person you like. GOOD OR BAD?

Let’s say you and your little crush are blessed. Access to everything you could ever need has been placed in the palm of your hands. You could say that the two of you are in a veritable … garden … of apps and settings. All these things are great, but you want more. A charming friend takes you aside and tells you there’s a SPECIAL setting, one that will grant you the all-knowing powers of the garden’s creator (Steve Jobs). You know you aren’t supposed to turn it on (if the phone wanted it enabled, why would it come disabled?), but you’re tempted. You turn it on, and suddenly, you know everything. You see that you are naked, and you are ashamed.

I don’t think the saying “ignorance is bliss” necessarily applies in this case, because not knowing whether or not someone you like has read your text isn’t “bliss” so much as it is excruciating, life-sucking, demoralizing agony. Maybe “ignorance is a kind of torture that is, at least, familiar” ? Stressing out while waiting for a crush to respond to a text is what we are SUPPOSED to do. You’re not supposed to know – or be able to guess – when that response is coming. It’s exciting! And terrible. But still exciting. It is the very best and the very worst type of wait.

Knowing your crush read your text is going to diminish your pleasant surprise if s/he does respond, and it’s going to amplify your misery if s/he doesn’t. What’s worse than knowing you’re being ignored? (NOTHING.) Keep the notifications off. Sure, you’d be omniscient with them on. But at what cost? Expulsion from paradise. You’re not going to like it out there.

Has Twitter diminished its users’ overall faith in humanity? What are the repercussions of the fact that anyone can quite easily learn that a number of people were unaware of the fact that the Titanic was a real ship or tweeted racist remarks about The Hunger Games? Is it appropriate for these individuals to be publicly mocked with their avatars and usernames displayed for all with an Internet connection to see?

How do people not know that the Titanic was a real ship? A very popular documentary about the sinking has been released in movie theaters TWICE now. How do people think they got that footage if it NEVER HAPPENED??

Anyway. I don’t think it took Twitter for most people to know that a lot of people aren’t all that informed about world history, and I definitely don’t think it took Twitter for most people to realize that a lot of people are racists. Twitter just makes it easier for people to share their misinformed and bigoted views in a very bite-size, screen-cappable (?), public forum. I’m sure that at least SOME people were scandalized when productions of Shakespeare plays first started using women actors for the female parts. It’s just that we don’t have access to all of their outraged scrolls for screen-capping purposes. (“The frailer sex hath blighted mine favor’d play. Doth thou pronounce me sexist? LOL.”)

Finally, if Twitter users don’t want people finding their ignorant or racist tweets and mocking them, they probably shouldn’t be tweeting those tweets. Tweets are public and public speech can have consequences. Still, I’m not under the impression that going after a bunch of dumb kids on Twitter does all that much to combat systemic problems like poor education and racism. OR maybe I’m wrong, and maybe @-replying a dummy whose Twitter you found on a blog about how big of a dummy s/he is really WILL usher in world peace. Hooray! That was so easy!

FWD: Halp! is a weekly advice column on how to behave like a person when using technology. Would you like said advice? Email your questions to Katie.

Katie Heaney is a writer and volunteer text message analyst living in Minneapolis. She thinks you should have good manners, even on the internet.

Illustration by Cara Vandermey

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