Digital Drama: When a ‘Like’ Is More Than Just a ‘Like’
Whenever drama pops up online, you can never hear enough times, “It’s ONLY the internet!” This is a toxic attitude and it has to stop before we bury each other in existential graveyards of screenshots, emoji flirts, gif battles and read message receipts.
Humans are adaptable and creative. We can and will communicate by any means necessary.
We’ve adapted to FaceTime, texting, and other ways to communicate (mostly) clear thoughts. We’ve also adapted to more nuanced forms of what could only be described as “anti-communication.” These are the ways we communicate passively, by putting forth little to no effort. The most common instance of this is engaging on social media with someone whom we’ve failed to close some sort of loop. Unfortunately, this leaves our personal relationships vulnerable to passive yet meaningful communications on a regular basis.
As a comedian, the majority of what I post online is exaggerated hot takes and personal anecdotes crafted to elicit a humored response from as many people as possible. There is nothing that makes my blood boil more than someone who takes my posts literally, and even worse, comments or messages me about it with misdirected concern. So, I get it. Sometimes it IS just the internet. And that ‘sometimes’ is largely within the realm of entertainment.
But let’s talk about engagement.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scrolled down my Instagram feed just primal-level liking pictures of beautiful people. Some I know, some I do not. This is the point, right? Engagement. Algorithms. But is it communication? Yes and no. It depends on your history. If we know each other casually or not at all, a “like” is a damn like. It means nothing. Don’t read into it. We all know this, right?
Let’s not pretend like we all haven’t sarcastically laugh-reacted to something on Facebook or liked a status as a bare-bones approach to burying the hatchet: “Here’s a heart react on this mediocre joke you posted just to let you know we’re good.” We’ve all done it.
There are a handful of people in our lives, whether we admit it or not, who we actually care about. You don’t need to pull the “I hate drama” line with me. At this point I’m pretty sure comedy has ruined most of my friendships. But that doesn’t mean I’m not accountable for some of it.
A different thing happens when you engage with someone you have a prior relationship with on social media, as opposed to just a random online personality. You are knowingly enforcing your presence on that person. Now, depending on your personal relationship, things can get really murky.
Say, for instance, you’re a dude and we know each other in real life. We don’t have a prior intimate relationship, and you start liking every single picture from that beach trip I took ten years ago. You are literally forcing me to know you’ve creeped on all my bikini pics from when I was 22. This is totally a form of communication because you know what you’re doing, and you know I’m going to see your name show up on my phone 20 times in a row.
Me and my bff have loose-ish plans, and I text her “When do you wanna head out?” and I get radio silence for an hour, but she’s posting Full House gifs on all my Facebook comments, I’m going to be annoyed. We all know how Facebook works so you know I’m getting the notification. You can’t deny this is actively ignoring me and literally shoving it in my face.
Things get the most sticky in romantic relationships, which is where you will hear the most passionate cries of “It’s ONLY the internet!” defensiveness. If that were true, there wouldn’t be memes, song lyrics and flat out relationship-testing blowouts over a one-word comment on a girl you both sorta know’s IG thirst trap.
We’ve done a brilliant job of gaslighting ourselves into doubting our instincts in how we interpret online interaction and confrontation. Just look at the examples that are set when a female public figure can receive countless rape threats on Twitter and there is no legal action that can really come of it. Facebook is notoriously inconsistent with what they will consider harassment that is ban-worthy. So why wouldn’t we transfer the non-urgency we feel toward online threats and harassment, to how we interact with the people we actually care about?
I guess we figure in the grand scheme of things, should we really be taking every little action so seriously when there are bigger things to worry about?
Maybe not, but if enough people have a similar emotional reaction to something, can we at least agree that some etiquette could be acknowledged? At the very least, maybe we can trust that our actions don’t exist in a vacuum. If they did, I can’t imagine many of us would get a surplus of heart reacts.