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Rage bait: Why social media loves it when you’re angry

Rage baiting or rage farming is a tactic used on social media in order to generate views and comments. It is designed to make users angry, and make social media platforms money.

What is rage bait?

A tweet which went viral on Twitter/X back in 2019 stated, ‘Each day on Twitter there is one main character. The goal is to never be it.’ This became so popular that the idea of the Twitter Main Character evolved, which is a user on the social media site that posts something that is received poorly, usually resulting in two or more sides arguing it out in the comments.

Whilst the Twitter Main Character usually refers to someone unknowingly posting something that gets the internet angry, rage bait is content on social media that is designed intentionally to make you rage. 

Rage bait can be anything: images of groups of people, videos of protests, news articles with provocative headlines, offensive adverts; anything which gets a social media user all riled up. The content doesn’t need to be honest, true or accurate; just frustrating or polarising enough that some people reading or watching get annoyed. 

Why anger makes social media giants money

One of the challenges for social media applications and services is to figure out how to keep you on their product for longer. Things like notifications, alerts and banners are part of this effort to keep you engaged. If Facebook can tell you someone you like has posted, or Reddit can recommend new users to subscribe to, or TikTok can let you know that someone has replied to your comment, you’re more likely to open the app. 

However, what social media companies really want is for you to open their app and then stay on their app. The longer you are using the app, the more you’re commenting and sharing, the more you’re seeing adverts, and the more money the app generates. And what does the research suggest keeps us on social media the longest? Anger

So, the algorithm on social media platforms rewards content that gets more engagement, and when social media users are angry, they’re more likely to engage with the content. For people who post on social media, content creators and influencers, this means that they’re rewarded for posting content that gets their viewers angry. And when we’re angrier online, we’re angrier offline too.

Tired of raging? 

When we’re talking about the issues with rage bait, it’s important to make a distinction between this and anger. Anger is an important and valid emotion; it gets us motivated, it can organise us and it can be a generator for change both online and offline. However, rage bait is about manipulation, and weaponising our anger against us to generate views, reactions and ultimately, money. 

If you don’t want to be sucked into rage bait online, here are some alternatives. 

  1. First, fact check

    It’s easy to get swept up in a wave of anger when you see something provocative online. Before getting into a fight in the comments, check whether the content is accurate. Read the full article rather than just the headline; find some trusted news sources. You could also try FullFact.Org to check whether something is real or fake.

  2. Take it offline

    Rage bait on social media can feel loud, and all encompassing. If you notice that you’ve been fired up online for a while, it might be time to take a break. Most social media apps allow you to set reminders for your screen time; so you can be notified when you’ve been on the app past a certain time, or longer than you’d like to be.

  3. Use your anger for good

    If you’re angry about something you’ve seen online, you could think about how you could use that anger outside of social media. This might be volunteering, campaigning, donating time or money to causes that you care about. You could even find activist groups or movements that you could be involved in. 

Rage bait thrives on our engagement, and the more that we get angry about something, the more social media will push similar content at us to make us even angrier. The best way to deal with rage bait is to stop commenting, don’t post, avoid replying. If the only thing your anger is serving is social media giants, it might be time to stop engaging.

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