These last eight months have put nearly everyone in some kind of pinch point. The psychological pressures, strains, shifts in rhythms and patterns and the interruptions in resources—along with polarizing politics and the heightened push for awareness of human rights has left even the most logical and reasonable people at a loss for what to do.
Six months ago, I started a social experiment mostly out of curiosity, but also out of the desire to know the origins of what was coming across my feeds and why people were behaving so ridiculously on both sides. I wanted to know about the tricky algorithms on Facebook that were hijacking my news intake. Interestingly, the documentary “The Social Dilemma” released on Netflix a few months into my own experiment, which informed a shift in my engagements and helped me map the methods a little better.
I already knew I’d be dumping my Facebook account probably by the end of the year, but I wanted to know how the algorithms worked so I could use them later if I chose to market for one of my labels. Engagement was really the key.
Let me back up a bit to my first paid writing job. I was twenty years old when I was hired to write “rant/rave” columns. It was 1998, and I was so stoked to have a $30 check once a month for content that I didn’t ask any questions. (It turns out it was for an online porn magazine—which I discovered when I asked for a copy to put in my brag book) Anyway, I was hired to write (poorly) a column each month that would make people angry, argumentative, irritable, or reactive. “I piss people off every day! You mean I can get paid for it?”
I was paid to be a troll. I didn’t realize that’s what it was at the time. Mind you, we were still in the days of dialup and if I could make people angry enough to write in and stay online (seeing advertisements from the e-zine) long enough to spout replies—I was winning. True fact=I never once, not once, read the comments. Why? Why in god’s name would I stick around for that?
My job was to find trigger points, form an opinion, then drop the bomb and leave the room. That was it. Then I took my 30$ check and blew it on candy and movie rentals, since I wasn’t even old enough to drink yet.
I did it for about a year before the negativity really wore me down. It was exhausting trying to come up with a topic every month to piss people off—angry people, and being in a headspace to taunt them is tiring. I wanted to use my craft for more than trigger trolling. I wrote that we needed to legalize weed, tax the hell out of it and pay for education upgrades. I wrote that churches collecting tithing should also have to pay taxes. (And so on and so forth) All of it was aimed to polarize.
A year later I moved on to my first set of novels and the rest is history.
The point is this: word craft and storytelling are, by function, a form of connecting with the primal reactive points of the human experience. Whether that’s to educate, or control, manipulate or enlighten is really up to two factors; Intent and engagement.
Think of it this way. The dominant reactions will always boil down to FEAR and LOVE. It seems overly simplistic but there’s a plethora of fiber and energy in each one, right?
Love= trust, compassion, willingness, generosity, kindness, joy, fulfillment, openness, forgiveness and so on. Love embodies BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT. Love also embodies the ability to empathize, see alternate viewpoints, and find compromise. Love attempts to understand, not control outcome.
Fear= distrust, withholding, stagnation, cruelty, unkindness, us vs. them, pulling back, anger, retaliation, being closed off, bitterness, stubbornness, anxiety, depression, rage. Fear embodies ASSUMED IGNORANCE and a baseline for battle readiness. Fear attempts to control outcome, not understand.
It’s simple, and yet not. Because we all have both within us at any given time on a number of topics; relationships, business, government, home, health, finances, and so on and so forth. PLUS, we bring to each argument the unhealed/unrecognized baggage of the topic from our previous experiences.
Remember the two factors that imbue communication—Intent and engagement?
Intent can be either love or fear and the resulting engagement will respond with either love or fear? Some of that is in response to the intent, and the rest is nearly 100% based a preconditioned emotional set-point.
As a paid trigger troll, my job was to find the language and set off that preconditioned set-point in order to keep people online longer, to keep them engaged. It didn’t matter if I made up facts. It didn’t matter if I pulled data out of my butt. The guy was paying me to write content that would keep people emotional. Dial-up = $$. Well, it did anyway. Now that $$ is in time spent scrolling, data mining and so on.
In 1998 it didn’t matter to me at all, at the tender age of twenty, that people were getting worked up, emotional or starting fights online over my content. It mattered that I had a paid writing credit, and that I could wander down to the market for candy and the lasted VHS new release. My thoughts were, “If they’re dumb enough to sit there and fight about it, that’s on them. I’ve got things to do.”
That experience was pivotal in later years as I learned yet more about emotional anchorage, and writing novels that pulled readers in. Toggling the love/fear switch in the human experience is what makes storytelling so gripping. If we don’t connect with the story, believe in the protagonists, get hooked into their adventure—it’s not a book worth reading, right? It’s not an idea worth championing. You put it down and walk away.
So what was the point of all this?
If I played the engagement part of the algorithms on Facebook correctly, my posts should now be showing up on 75% of my Facebook friends’ feeds. That was a lot of clicking, sharing, pushing, and triggering.
IF you are one of the friends who normally never comments on politics, or otherwise but somehow felt compelled to weigh in on my feed at some point in the last 6 months—chances are you’ve been stuck with my feed since. Gotchya! Not gloating…but maybe a little gloating.
If you’re one of the people who don’t believe intent/engagement are the primary factors of communication or that the love/fear part of the underlying motivations, or that it’s too oversimplified—keep in mind I’m now showing up on your feed because you responded to something I posted…good/bad/otherwise. You are part of that 75% matrix by design.
I will fully admit this was a shitty play. Not the way to use the Kung Fu magic of storyteller energy. However, in my paltry defense I’ll say this:
The surface appearance of cultural division in America is not quite as drastic as it may seem. In fact, this experiment has renewed much of my faith in my community and in humanity. I’ll get into all that in other posts, but for now I just wanted to let folks know, there was a reason to the madness.
Thank you all who trusted me to explain the strangeness. Thank you to all the private messages, notes, and emails expressing frustration and concern over things people were saying on my feed. I really appreciated the feeling of knowing I wasn’t an island. Thank you to all who took bait, weighed in, commented, chewed their own fingernails, bit back retorts, and generally held on for the ride. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for your patience.
I sincerely hope the following posts expressing what I learned about our wider community and political divisions will be worth the strain and high blood pressure for you all.
As an aside: if you want OUT of the feeds and to block any further posts from my now that you know what I was up to there are two ways to shift your algorithm.
However, if you’re curious what I discovered or want to go a little deeper, just like, share, subscribe. It’s silly. I know—I’m using the same engagement principles to keep you reading as I did to get bumped into your news feed.
I never worried about the people who really know me wondering about what I feel, think, or believe. They already know me. They already know my general and consistent intentions. They already know my life’s work to this point.
But a few months of digging, triggering, pushing, and sitting in some pretty uncomfortable positions has led me to believe—as a whole, humanity is still pretty fucking awesome. I know it doesn’t seem like that when you’re burning through the scroll—but bear with me. Hang in a little longer, and if you’re able, grant me the benefit of the doubt.
My intent from this point forward is to show the love—if you can trust in my intent, let me show you what I’ve discovered.
To be continued….
This is also an excellent time to plug Gideon For-mukwai's book 'The SCIENCE of STORY SELLING".