‘Dislike’ but ‘Follow’

I just ‘liked’ a friend’s witty Facebook status message. A few entries below was a status message from another friend, which I found revolting. But I had no option to ‘dislike’ it. And I didn’t express my thoughts as a comment either. Considering that this was the latest of many such status messages from him, I decided to ‘hide’ all his posts.

We do this all the time. We ‘unfollow’ people on Twitter when they say things that don’t appeal to us. We stop reading blogs and newspapers if they don’t conform to our world view. We insulate ourselves from anything that doesn’t reinforce our opinions, our ideologies, our beliefs.

Online algorithms egg us on. Amazon keeps telling me which books I will possibly like based on the ones I’ve already ordered from there. Ditto Netflix and movies. Groupon sells me online coupons. Expedia suggests holidays. If I like something, I am told I can get more things that I will like more.

Back in 1995, the MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte anticipated the customized newspaper tailored to individual tastes (what is basically your Facebook or Twitter stream today) with the term Daily Me.

He argued that we will be faced with options that lead to a uni-directional positive feedback, resulting in our choices affecting our mindset forever. Others like David Weinberger referred to this as the echo chamber – “internet spaces where like-minded people listen only to those people who already agree with them.”

Two years ago, The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof observed:

The decline of traditional news media will accelerate the rise of The Daily Me, and we’ll be irritated less by what we read and find our wisdom confirmed more often. The danger is that this self-selected “news” acts as a narcotic, lulling us into a self-confident stupor through which we will perceive in blacks and whites a world that typically unfolds in grays.

Not only do we strongly agree with things we conform to, but also tend to strongly disagree with those on the other side. As a reader of many Indian websites and blogs, I am genuinely appalled at the virulence that is unleashed, one that preempts any attempt at a mature debate.

Observe the comments section of many strongly-opinionated pieces and you’re likely to see responses that are either triumphalist or venomous. Considering that the latter group often targets the writer’s nationality, religion or race, the group that agrees with the piece is prompted to outrage against the outrage. There’s no shortage of anger.

Forget political pieces, even articles on something as apparently trivial as cricket descend into Hindus-Muslim rants. Or ones where North Indians and South Indians abuse each other. Strangely, the same group of North Indians and South Indians will combine as a united front and spew venom at a a western writer if he were to criticize something related to cricket in India. And western readers don’t miss a chance to give it back when the moment arises.

How can we stop this apparently vicious positive reinforcement cycle? One of India’s finest historians, Ramachandra Guha, once said he makes it a point to regularly read magazines and writers who he disagrees with. Kristof urges us to “struggle on our own to work out intellectually with sparring partners whose views we deplore.”

The next time you want to unfollow someone on Twitter or hide someone’s status messages on Facebook, think about whether you’re depriving yourself of some good workout time.

Many of us often finish several conversations with the cliched ‘let’s agree to disagree’ but maybe the way ahead is to start some conversations with the more interesting, “Let’s disagree to agree”.

Over to you.

Vaguely related: Try a mental diet, My Twitter year.

Published by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

I’m a freelance writer, editor and author. My debut novel - What's Wrong With You, Karthik - was published by Pan Macmillan in India. You can order it here: https://www.amazon.com/Whats-Wrong-with-You-Karthik/dp/9389109507/ I have worked as a reporter and editor for ESPNcricinfo. I was part of the team that launched their digital magazine – The Cricket Monthly. You can read all my articles here. I used to write a fortnightly column for cricketnext.com, I host podcasts and (occasionally) write pieces at 81allout.com. I have contributed articles to Wisden, Nightwatchman, The Hindu, Mumbai Mirror, Indian Express, Forbes.com, AOL, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and Yahoo India. I have worked for Bloomberg News and Wall Street Journal as a features reporter.

44 thoughts on “‘Dislike’ but ‘Follow’

  1. I find myself strongly agreeing with you. Now I’ll have to find a total idiot to follow on Twitter to balance that feeling 🙂

    Very well expressed as always.

  2. Beautifully put. The idea of the “Daily Me” is quite addictive to the layperson. When we run into folks who agree with us, it gives us a nice dopamine boost, so it’s tempting in the same way that men like to visit prostitutes to confirm the size of their organ. From a technology perspective, I see it quite differently. Today’s tech does the “Daily Me” bit beautifully, but for someone who wants technology to help him/her find distasteful and deliberately different viewpoints, I am sure tech can help in a few years. You can do it today with a bit of manual effort (RSS feeds, search alerts, following folks you disagree with). Perhaps it will become the hep thing to do in a while 🙂

    1. Yes.Given that you may know how all these algos work, can’t they think of a better way to formulate these? Even something like Youtube can do so much more. Don’t you think?

  3. Very mature and sensible thought.

    Building around ourselves tools that help chisel a (unidimensional) feel-smug worldview is what we have to guard ourselves against. For that, the mind has be elastic and eclectic —- allowing for various influences. But in the milieu that we live in (India), where it’s either here or there, Congress or BJP, Tendulkar or Dravid, Rahman or Ilayaraja kind of attitude, it becomes that much more difficult.

    The internet, and the social media tools, with its inevitable shrillness, are not helping matters in any manner.

  4. This is an unavoidable side effect of the amount of choices we have these days. We opt for the easy way out and choose to align ourselves with those sources / opinions / views that are less assaulting on our own.

    The nature of how information reaches us gives us the freedom to allow only that which is appealing and filter the rest.

    Remember the stories you heard about the Internet / Technology dumbing people down? ….. Its True !! 🙂

  5. lovely piece well written. Well i think the way tech works is it simply maps the mob mindset and charts a populist stream of thinking going forward. which is what governs the success of a successful online idea/business. However to want to disagree on something just to debate in a healthy way calls for creation of a sub biome within a certain group that displays variable interests with respect to given situations. The joy and the sadness of being in such a group is to be debate ready 24/7.

  6. Well said. But how many of us would like to test this ‘swallow a bitter pill everyday’ policy? Negative comments/unfair criticisms (all negative ones are unfair, btw), contrary to popular advices, sap one’s enthusiasm and give negative energies.

  7. Well said, and I am guilty of everything you’ve mentioned. I have an “unfollow at will” policy based on how obnoxious I find a certain user. But I also have to wonder what the other option is.

    I certainly don’t want to continue engaging with people who take dufferpanti to a whole new level (as in, it’s ok if someone disagrees with me but honestly, I’d like it if they used their brain occasionally). It’s like- I read blogs and tweet for fun. Interacting with certain people merely raises my BP, makes me mutter “The End Is Nigh” type of things, and I doubt any good will come from me pitting my wits against them anyway…

    I do spar with my friends though. Because even if we disagree (and we often do), I am assured of non-kameenapanti responses 😛

    Perhaps the thing to ponder is: how dirty is the fight going to get and how personally will people take things? Also, you have to wonder if it’s worth the wasted breath 😛

    1. Thanks Pitu. I do agree that it’s easier to spar with friends one has known for long. I guess the FB and Twitter ‘friendships’ aren’t too conducive for such animated discussions.

  8. You have written about something which even I am guilty of, unknowingly. We always tend to gravitate towards people who say nice things about us, who share our point of view on most subjects and so on. It is a matter of staying within one’s comfort zone at all times and not daring to face something that we are not used to. This article nudges me to be more tolerant of the people whose views I don’t agree with or with whom I have nothing much in common.
    Nicely written!

  9. A good post and a very relevant idea – the workout that a lot of us need. I for one have rarely trolled or spammed but am guilty of some of the things you have brought up.

    Some solutions are –

    – Reading more lengthy/well argued pieces and tweeting less
    – Trying to have genuine discussions more often than just finding like minded souls
    – Following a range of people with a spectrum of opinions relative to our own
    – Having/using one’s sense of humour!

  10. Beautifully written, and extremely important points raised.

    I find that, increasingly, debate is about talking AT eachother without really listening, ultimately shrugging and uttering the futile statement that is so treasured by us all, “Each to his own.”

    We forget that this is never in fact contested. In an online debate, it goes without saying that your opinion is yours to retain. But to end a debate at the very point that a deadlock is reached, when you have finally found the crux of the matter where both parties are best equipped to understand the other’s stance, is folly.

    I don’t think I am losing much by not visiting White supremacist forums or perusing Hindu Janjagruti Samiti’s pompous blogposts, so I think there is some value in being selective of what you expose yourself to. There’s nothing to “understand” there, simply vile bigotry.

    But to strategically weed out any point-of-view that is different from your own is quite a different story. An open mind is no use if its senses are censored.

  11. Hello,

    Well articulated.

    But I have few observations:
    1. If people spew rant if posts are not reinforcing their views, that means people are reading it. It is contradicting your own claim that people tend to hide or unfollow someone who do not write what we want to read.
    2. It is not always that we stop reading a newspaper just because it does not conform to our view. There are several other reasons. I once stopped ToI just because the 20 page news carried 40 page advertisement supplement.
    3. By your logic, you should be following every damn person on Twitter. You dont follow someone means you dont find their posts interesting i.e. not conforming to your views. Its natural to hide something that you dont like. You are trying to be utopian here.

    1. Thanks for the comment, anon. About your points. 1 Sure, people are reading no doubt but are reacting in an extreme way simply because they’re not reading it as a different point of view but as something that goes against their worldview. 2 I understand that there are several reasons to stop reading a newspaper. The one I mentioned was just one of them. 3 I totally agree that we need to be selective with those who we follow on Twitter. But what we can ponder about is how quickly many of us choose to unfollow people when they say things that don’t conform.

  12. I’ve struggled with this concept for a while.

    a) Initially, I subscribed to a view where I sought out alternate view points to my analysis and worldview.

    b) And then, I read books, for example, Warren Buffet’s and he says ‘This is not a beauty contest. It doesn’t matter whether the crowd agrees with you or not. It matters whether your data and analysis is correct’

    Now, I am caught between the two 🙂

    Of course, now that you have written this blogpost, I have to actively follow kamalphil on Twitter.

  13. I tended to do listen to the other view quite often. did it for more than a year, But over a period of time you realize how one dimensional the other person’s opinion is; you try arguing with him but u realize it is futile and the other guy starts to abuse you; so what do you do? rather than let your blood boil and engage in end less debates. You let go; i would say you follow some one’s views whose views you disagree with for a while, try to see his perspective, but after carefully examing his perspective you still feel he is speaking/writing non sense ; you dis engage; cut him off of your online world; he does not matter to you any longer; much better than outraging over issues you are in no position to influence; I do the same quite often…

    1. Thanks Ruchik. I agree with you about those who aren’t interested in arguing their point through and easily resort to abuse. There is no point wasting one’s time on them. I was referring to those who might have a well-reasoned argument from the other side.

  14. If people actually do this, it will ultimately lead to something far bigger than just individual improvement — it will lead to greater democracy and democratic thinking. (*Get goosebumps at the thought*)

  15. People seem to only post stuff on facebook or twitter that a majority of their friends or contacts are highly likely to like. ‘dislike’ therefore is filtered out at posting-time. Also, the mind wants to ignore not only a different world-view but also information that is boring or irrelevant. I believe this is the reason we mostly unfollow. We ‘hide’ to hide something personal, perhaps.

  16. hahaha, initially I had mildly disagreed with you. Now, after reading the comments here, this is sounding like an ‘art of living’ forum to me 🙂 “Echo chamber” is a convenient stereotype. Go through your followers list, and check how many people have similar beliefs and opinions on different aspects of life as you do. I wouldn’t be surprised if the list is fairly small. I follow many people because of their interest in.. say Cricket, but within that we hardly agree with each other on many aspects of the game. We don’t ‘unfollow’ them. We don’t even dislike them, at least most of the times. Also the initial process of selecting who to follow (by that don’t just mean the Twitter follow thing) has that bias anyway. And being surrounded by like-minded people isn’t a bad thing anyway. Unleashing virulence on anyone who disagrees with you is, but not ‘unfollowing’ them.

    I agree that the ability to appreciate diverse opinions on a topic is important, but you can’t get that by forcing yourself. At some stage, we’ll grow tired of listening to similar views and seek out divergent views, and that’s when it becomes sustainable.

    1. Ha. Art of living, it seems. I am not saying being surrounded by like-minded people is bad. I’m only talking about being surrounded ‘only’ by like-minded people. And though one may not be able to force oneself from following people with an opposite view, one can try and not ‘unfollow’ or ‘hide’ them when they are already being followed. It’s a fine difference but I’m sure you understand what I’m saying.

      1. Well of course. I get the difference and I have a problem with that too. See, the point is that the initial selection of who to follow has an inherent bias. Sometimes the ‘unfollow’ may be triggered by a strong difference of opinion, but it’s merely a correction of what I presume to have been a wrong selection in the first place. ‘unfollowing’ someone is only as wrong as not following people to begin with. If you don’t like something, ignore, is sound logic. Vitriol is not on. but this whole forced way to take in divergent views has no limits, and not necessarily effective either. To be honest, the more I think about it, the more I disagree with this!

  17. If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way.- Bertrand Russell

  18. well said…
    i find it far more fun to engage with people i disagree with than people i agree with – “i agree with you” is an effective conversation stopper.

    i have blocked 2-3 people so far – that is because they got obscenely abusive. i tend to filter key words at times to prevent an information overload – but generally after the event has passed – i tend to unblock that … like 2g or cwg or wc11 …

    but, i have begun to find the virulence disturbing – not because it is virulent but because i find myself wanting to respond in kind .. and that kind of behavior ends up making me feel dirty afterwards …. but, maybe this is a way of teaching me tolerance !!

  19. Very well written and so true.

    I think it is a very Indian thing to equate the argument to the arguer. People completely lack the maturity to separate the person from the point and that’s probably the root of everything. This behaviour is very prevalent even in supposedly mature environments like corporates, which I’ve seen from personal experience. A normal Indian manager (easily more than 50% of them) cannot digest a valid point from a team member without his ego taking a hit, even if it is during objective, highly technical design discussions. My prof who blogs atRandom graphs writes a lot on this topic. Might interest you.

    I think it also has to do with everyone being so obsessed about talking than listening these days. And tools like Twitter and FB let you do precisely that. For instance, people want to tweet their opinion on a movie within 5 minutes of entering the theater. By the end of the film your opinion could be entirely different, but we lack even that much patience.

    And, we tend to generalize. If a person X had disagreed with me on something a while ago, it doesn’t mean that X and me can never agree on any topic. But the minute I see a tweet/status update/blog from X, my mind preempts me from even reading it fully. If I read it, I’d realize that we are both paraphrasing the same point differently. Sigh, the bane of our times!

    This whole idea of having healthy arguments and debates is perhaps the first thing that takes you by pleasant surprise, when you interact with people from other cultures. Nice post again, and love your writing!

  20. I’m all for healthy discussions, learning about new cultures and ways and have deepest respect for anyone’s beliefs even when they are contrary to mine.

    The web unfortunately gives any scum an invisible shield and turns them into “though and horrible people” reminds me of the sketch on Lethal Weapon 4 “telephone tough guy” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PilPojosccI

    A) Don’t believe a word newspapers say especially TV, look at who owns them and look at history not far gone they all just say what, they wants us to know. That’s not necessarily the truth usually lies and more lies obscure the odd real tragedy.

    B) I don’t need any validation from a post, comment or TV or any other media or person to distinguish fact from fiction, nor am I at the mercy of haters or flamers.

    C) What you see is what you get, lies and subterfuge don’t run far in my world

    D) I’m able within 30 seconds to know exactly what type of person anyone is, sadly never been wrong.

    E) Rather alone then in ill company

    Problem is the truth, people don’t like to hear it, most especially if is close to home.

    I appreciate the opposite rather be told the truth then to know I’m listening to lies or have to call a “plumber” because I have someone’s lips jammed up my backside.

    Such is the nature of humanity… Heck best stop now before this goes into a deep discussion about humanity…

    Thanks for reading, or not…

  21. “I have read all the replies by the visitors and responses by the author”. Kindly treat this as my response to this awesome post.

    People form the echo chambers and they hop from one to another. The reason being that there is nothing called “Absolute” right/truth about anything. Inability to form an opinion or his pursuit of “Absoluteness of information”(any topic ) forces him to Follow people that he can blame, incase if he ever goes wrong. In case if its in his favour then his conviction about the people whom he follows becomes strong and the rest of people form “Disliked” community. Its a circle that knowingly/unknowingly a reader/blogger goes through often switching from one community to another. No harm u see..

  22. Most people read and do things for validation. Some people do things to widen their perspective, that’s probably why the so called “like minded people” is romanticized so much.

    At a very philosophical level probably we live only to validate our existence.

    1. I think if I fell under any category you just described, I would be in the widen perspective, but anything I do including my blog to actually because not looking for validation but rather vindication and to help people in a more pragmatic way, eve of some of what I post is contrary to some of my values and beliefs, one most even challenge himself/herself.

      I don’t really have an ego to be hurt, which was dumped dead weight back in primary school, unfortunately instead of cultivation or helping others, most of “humanity” rather engage in the opposite.

      Some of us have to be on the opposite side of the scales.

      All these comments to a post which only really is telling us what we already know, question is how many of us live by the words we write irrespective of consequences to any level of our lives, including professional.

      Fact of the matter is that values, honour, truth and honesty are in the endangered list…. I count very few of them around, discounting myself I met 2 people like that in whole 40 years…. And I been around a bit.

  23. Now i understand why you have accepted my friend request on Facebook after a long time 🙂

    Remind me of the Nietzsche quote that i read recently : “The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.”

  24. Then why should I enjoy reading about opinions opposite my own from time to time? It’s just to make me feel certain about my own opinions again, really.

  25. Nicely written and conveys things over which we all need to sit and think. Glad there are people who think and write like this. If only Indian media was half as good as this we would be much better off.

    1. Thanks Ramesh. I agree that we need to think more about our online behavior. Sometimes we go through our online lives in auto-pilot mode and get caught in an echo chamber before we know it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: