Flame wars: How angry memes go viral

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Need your online content to go viral? Get your opponents angry. Photo: CGP Grey/YouTube
Need your online content to go viral? Get your opponents angry. Photo: CGP Grey/YouTube

The internet is up in arms about the price of the higher-end Apple Watch models, with a grand level of snark and wit in the various Twitter rants and reaction pieces. The aggro response will most likely fade away, but if there were an equally large group of apologists, the resulting flame war might become a larger-than-life conflagration.

If you’ve ever wondered why some internet arguments go large, this video may have the answer. It turns out that the best way to get the attention of the internet is to get angry. Or, rather, angry reactions can almost guarantee the potential of an argument to go viral.

The video, created by CGP Grey, a video collective focused on explaining complicated things, refers to research by Jonah Berger and Katherine L Milkman titled, “How Online Content Goes Viral,” in which the authors explain their central thesis: that anger will fuel a much larger, viral reaction on the internet than any other associated emotions.

“Using a unique data set of all the New York Times articles published over a three-month period,” write the study’s authors in their abstract, “the authors examine how emotion shapes virality.”

The results show that positive content tends to outshine negative content, but that higher physiological arousal (anger, awe, anxiety, joy) tends to influence the potential of viral distribution than lower arousal. In other words, if you get angry when you are exposed to a meme, political position or other “thought virus,” you’ll be more likely to pass it along. When many people do the same thing, and an “us versus them” attitude is cultivated, there’s a much better chance that the ideas will propagate widely.

So, while funny cat videos still tend to do very well, more complex thoughts and positions — like whether the Apple Watch is a worthwhile luxury item at a $10,000 price point — tend to do better when angry thoughts are involved. Grr.

Via: Stellar.io