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Why the hate on social media?

Updated: Feb 7, 2022

By Dylan Ng Hiap Jun (21J04)

Singaporean Tiktokers advertising themselves as a rental boyfriend/girlfriend

Whilst scrolling through TikTok on my way home from a long day of school, I came across a series of TikTok videos with Singaporeans advertising themselves for rent over the coming festive Chinese New Year Period. Unsurprisingly, there was much hate speech directed towards them. Having seen an increase in frequency of such hate speech online, I wanted to delve deeper into the situation and provide some insights on why this is occurring.

Hate comments towards Addison Rae's "Ya Dig" Tiktok

It is fair to say that none of us are foreign towards the abuse of social media. Nobody is able to hide from the public eye and due to the interconnectedness of social media platforms, online hate has only been exacerbated with just a simple “click” of a button where everyone can access it easily. When such derogatory comments become exponentially prominent, we will naturally assume that this is a new social norm that downplays the seriousness of many sensitive concepts such as misogyny and cultural appropriation.

Hate comments from online is deeply problematic, no matter how we look at it. Where discrimination and dehumanisation are actions we avoid consciously on a daily basis in the real world within our social circles, why would anybody still perpetuate hate online?

In my opinion, there are three main factors for this persistent occurrence: abhorrence, anonymity, and attention.

The most straightforward factor stems from abhorrence towards the posts on social media. Not everything on social media is to one’s liking, where some mediums may contain elements that feel like a personal attack towards them. As a result of feeling insulted or dissatisfied with the type of content given, we tend to have strong emotional urges to express this anger in the form of hate comments in the spur of a moment. Hence, it may be difficult to uphold our moral values at that moment.

The second factor lies within the comfort of anonymity that social media provides. A main reason why social media has such a large usership is due to the fact that we are able to express ourselves without needing to disclose any information about our identity. In place of our real names, we use pseudonyms and nicknames as our online persona to express ourselves.

This often gives people a sense of newfound “power”, a sort of ability to say anything without consequences. Unlike the real world, the internet does not follow under the jurisdiction of any concrete laws or policies. Minister K Shanmugan has also acknowledged in his speech in 2013 that anonymity has made the occurrence for such egregious cases of harassment online easier. With cultivation of such a mindset, we may unknowingly become used to such a privilege, leading to a blurred line between the type of comments that are “right” or “wrong.”

The last factor is wanting to gain attention. As mentioned before, social media is a universal platform where networks are able to reach into a multitude of regions across the globe. With this in mind, people would want to spread hate comments in order to gain “fame” and superficial clout through the defamation of popular figures by leveraging on the different communities within social media. For example, Ms Wendy Cheng, more popularly known as Xiaxue, had her own allegedly racist comments dug up by the online community when she herself said on Instagram that MP Raeesah Khan was stirring racist sentiment in the 2020 General Election.

This shows how in order to gain more likes and comments, people can purposefully spark controversies or incite drama to attract people to participate in such discourse, from both pro- or anti-establishment groups. Once the fuse has been lit, the rest usually jump onto the bandwagon and the vicious cycle of online hate spirals uncontrollably. Thus, it can become a source of self-gratification for many.

Regarding how we should behave on social media, there are plenty of research papers and articles online that can give a more detailed description of the model behaviour. However, by dissecting the psyche of these keyboard warriors, I hope to convey a message that anyone can spread hate online. No one is able to stay rational all the time. I hope by putting into perspective the driving forces of these actions, we can be more conscious and decide for ourselves whether our online behaviour is appropriate.

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