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Why Do We Enjoy Hate-Reading Other People’s Social Media Posts?

Don’t lie. You do it, too.
PHOTO: istockphoto

Picture this: You’re scrolling mindlessly through Facebook like you do about 50 times a day. Out of all the Facebook friends whose posts you see on the regular, certain people jump out at you like a jack-in-the-box that you just can’t push back from whence it came: the head-over-heels couple with their essay-length lovey-dovey posts, the OOTD poster with the penchant for using totally unrelated song lyrics as captions, the acquaintance who went to Siargao once and is now slapping “beach please” on every damn thing. You snort in derision, but you read through their posts anyway. You always do.

You’re reading another person’s social media content even though you know you won’t like it, if only to bolster your belief that you don’t like it, and by extension, them. You’re hate-reading.

If our conversations with friends both online and offline are any indication, everyone and their mother hate-reads, albeit in varying degrees.

Iggy*, 24, a visual artist, says that he hate-reads because “it’s a source of entertainment” and “a way of passing time.” He reveals, “My roommate and I often hate-read this influencer we know. We spend like an hour or so a week to look at what she’s been posting. Tinitingnan pa namin ‘yung vlogs niya.”

You’re reading another person’s social media content even though you know you won’t like it, if only to bolster your belief that you don’t like it, and by extension, them. You’re hate-reading.

Katherine*, 31, an entrepreneur, agrees that she gets shallow amusement out of her hate-reads. “They’re gossip fodder,” she says. “The next time I meet up with my friends, I’m gonna tell them about their post ‘cause it’s funny.” Katherine goes on to explain that she feels about these people the same way she does about the Kardashians: “I hate you. But tell me more.”

When I asked Iggy and Katherine why they hate-read certain people, these traits came up: They were “phony,” or “stupid,” or “tasteless,” or “show-offs,” or hopelessly unaware of how they came off to others. And every post they put out that was consistent with these traits just cemented these perceptions.

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But IRL, we avoid being around people we don’t like, so wouldn’t it make more sense to avoid such people on social as well by hitting mute or unfollow? Yet here we are, reading compulsively through to the very last paragraph of our favorite hate-read’s 300-word caption about her engagement to “the yin to my yang.”

Maybe we’re hooked on our hate-reads because, in a perverse way, hate-reading actually brings us pleasure: We feel that unmistakable glow of superiority when we’re faced with other people’s flaws.

Iggy has noticed how he tends to feel superior to people who try to sound all woke on social media, yet whose words, to him, ring hollow. “They just sound so phony and stupid,” he says. “But gusto ko pa rin sila basahin.”

Especially if the subjects of our hate-reads have a leg up on us in most aspects, seeing them fail in other aspects at least levels the playing field enough to make us feel a little less envious. Katherine shares the example of a filthy rich college batchmate she and her friends hate-read because “she’s not only aware of her privilege, she smacks you in the face with it.” “She’s miles ahead of me in life right now, so there’s no way I feel superior to her,” Katherine says. “But the shit she puts out is stupid shit. So I feel like, ‘Huh, the universe gives and it takes.’”

Maybe we’re hooked on our hate-reads because, in a perverse way, hate-reading actually brings us pleasure: We feel that unmistakable glow of superiority when we’re faced with other people’s flaws.

But does this feeling of sweet superiority actually last? Doesn’t it ultimately leave a bad taste in the mouth because the satisfaction you felt came at another’s expense? Writing for Jezebel, Katie J.M. Baker describes how she feels after a hate-reading session, and anyone who has done the same and ended up with a niggling guilt at having rejoiced at others’ shortcomings and regret at all that time wasted will relate: “When I finally walk away from my computer, I feel like I’ve just binged on a butter-sogged bag of popcorn before the movie even started: I’m slightly nauseated, but still can’t help licking my fingers for more fatty flavor.”

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And what if the person you hate-read is really just bad at social media—takes godawful food photos, hashtags every post to within an inch of its life, et cetera, et cetera—but IRL, is actually pretty…great? Katherine shares the example of a vlogger she knows that she and her friends laugh about because of how awkward she is on camera. “But she didn’t do anything to me; she’s actually a nice person in real life,” she admits. “Her only fault is she’s not a great speaker. And I’m thinking, ‘Why? Why do I do it, why do my friends do it?”

Hate-reading can be entertaining and make us feel good about ourselves for a moment, but if we turned the mirror on ourselves long enough to realize that somewhere out there, someone might be waving us off as phonies and snorting over the stupid shit we post, too, maybe we wouldn’t find it so fun anymore.

The people you hate-read aren’t perfect, but then again, neither are you. 

Humor me and do this exercise: Go through your memories on Facebook’s “On This Day” feature. If your old posts make you shudder to the core, there’s a good chance someone else read them and thought they were cringe-worthy AS F, too.

Keith Campbell, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Georgia and author of The Narcissism Epidemic, tells Marie Claire of the way people present themselves online: “Even as we’re inwardly judging others for posting unrealistic content, we’re doing the exact same thing to varying degrees, curating an image of ourselves that we want people to see, while softening or omitting the stuff we’d rather keep hidden.”

A 2014 study has found that, with social media giving us front-row seats to everyone else’s highlight reel, social comparisons really do a number on our self-esteem, with those who spend more time on social networks having poorer self-esteem. That said, we could all learn from the less-is-more social media policy of Maria*, 30, a development worker who is no longer active on Facebook, and on the platforms she’s still on, treats the mute button like her best friend. “I really made it a point to not expose myself to shit I don’t like anymore,” she says. “‘Pag nakita mo na kasi, you have no choice na, nag-register na siyasayang oras, sayang energy, sayang headspace.”

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I’m not telling you to quit Facebook like Maria has, but I am telling you to pay attention to how these social media stimuli make you feel. Do they make you feel good? If they do, does this good feeling arise from witnessing someone else’s failures or weaknesses? If it does, is that really the kind of person you want to be, someone whose sense of self-worth needs the constant boost from seeing other people unable to come up with better social media captions than Bob Marley song lyrics?

The people you hate-read aren’t perfect, but then again, neither are you. Next time you happen upon their posts, just scroll on without lingering; ignore that jack-in-the-box like your life depends on it. And if you’re really so bothered, those mute and unfollow buttons are there for a reason. You never know, someone’s probably already used them on you.

*Names have been changed

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