How the inhumanity of social media comments led me to silence and submission
By Brett Easton Ellis
Somewhere in the last few years — and I can’t pinpoint exactly when — a vague yet almost overwhelming and irrational annoyance started tearing through me maybe up to a dozen times a day.
This annoyance was over things so seemingly minor, so out of my usual field of reference, that I was surprised by how I had to take a deep breath to dismantle this disgust and frustration that all due to the foolishness of other people: adults, acquaintances and strangers on social media who offered up their rash opinions and judgements, their mindless preoccupations, always with a unwavering certitude that they were right.
A toxic attitude seemed to drift off every post or comment or tweet, whether it was actually there or not. This anger was new, something I’d never experienced before — and it was tied in with an anxiousness, an oppression I felt whenever I ventured online, a sense that I was going to somehow make a mistake instead of simply offering an opinion or make a joke or criticize someone or something. This idea would have been unthinkable ten years earlier — that an opinion could become something wrong — but in an infuriated, polarized society people were blocked because because of these opinions, and unfollowed because they were perceived in ways that might be inaccurate.
The fearful began to instantly see the entire humanity of an individual in a cheeky, offensive tweet and were outraged; people were attacked and unfriended for backing the “wrong” candidate or having the “wrong” opinion or for simply stating the “wrong” belief. If it was as if no one could differentiate between a living person and a string of words hastily typed out on a black sapphire screen.
The culture at large seemed to encourage discourse but social media had become a trap, and what it really wanted to do was shut down the individual.
What often activated my stress was that other people were always angry about everything, presenting themselves as enraged by opinions that I believed in and liked or thought were simply innocuous. My pushback against all of this forced me to confront a degraded fantasy of myself — an actor, as someone I never thought existed — and this, in turn, became a constant reminder of my feelings. And what was worse: this anger could become addictive to the point where I just gave up and sat there exhausted, mute with stress. But ultimately, silence and submission were what the machine wanted.
Brett Easton Ellis is a U.S. author and screenwriter, best known for his novels Less than Zero and American Psycho. The preceding is from the introduction to his first work of non-fiction, White.