Social Media and Narratives of Fear

Mar 25, 2017  

Nobody desires to live in actual fear. But we love the feeling of fear if absent a genuine threat to our safety. That’s why we enjoy horror movies and scary video games and ghost stories. The rush of fear without any real danger. It’s universal.

But as our lives get safer, this short circuits into constructing narratives of panic. Lurking terrorists, the Satanic panic, sex trafficking, the threat of shark attacks. All overblown, but all ways to work ourselves up.

Panicking on social media plays to it even more, because it’s virtual, and so analogizes to fear from movies, books, games. Trouble is, panics in virtual space are, unlike the bad guy in a horror movie, about and directed at other, actual people.

So we use Twitter to make ourselves protagonists in a horror movie, which means making others into the antagonists. This can be fun, like horror movies are fun, but it erodes social bonds, and encourages bad policies.

And that makes the world actually worse, and so more legitimately frightening, all because we got stuck in the fun of a narrative.