MINNEAPOLIS – On the Internet, snark reigns supreme – or so it seems.
On social media, everyone wants to be the most clever. Twitter, in particular, with its 140-character limit, is tailor-made for the quick quip. Then there’s the app called Hater, which encourages users to publicly point out the things they most despise.
Yet there’s growing evidence that being kind and cheerful earns more attention than offering cutting complaints and cynicism. Not a day goes by without some warm and fuzzy critter’s antics gone viral. Inspirational quotes turned into graphics are a Pinterest staple.
Researchers have found that “likes” beget more “likes,” as hype feeds on itself. Another study revealed that being negative on Twitter had adverse effects on gaining more followers, while more positive, information-filled tweets made a Twitter user more popular.
“Happiness is contagious in the best possible way,” said Nataly Kogan, founder of Happier, a company aimed at making people feel good, starting with an iPhone app on which users share little cheerful moments of their day.
Since the app was launched in February, users have posted more than 1.3 million “happy moments,” brief reflections on things so simple as five minutes for a cup of coffee or a hug from a child. Teens in particular have told her Happier is a refuge for posting such thoughts without worrying about appearing uncool on Twitter or Facebook, where they feel pressure to be witty.
“We’re at this point in time where collectively it’s feeling too negative,” Kogan said. “We’re starting to realize there are more positive things in our lives.”
The Internet has been a place for pointed – sometimes hostile – exchanges since almost its beginning.
There’s established vocabulary for the nastiness, from flame wars to trolls, and much has been written about the emboldening effect of anonymity online. Even on a friendlier level, many people turn to social media to vent about everything from the weather to bad service at restaurants. Jokes often assume a cynical tone, a la “Sharknado.”
When Nina Davuluri, an Indian-American, won the Miss America crown Sept. 15, a string of racist posts littered social media.
“There’s a lot of negativity in bullying and snarkiness on social networks,” Kogan said.
But over time, if popularity is the goal, such a dour tone doesn’t work.
When researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Michigan tracked 500 Twitter users selected at random from regular users (no celebrities), they found that being negative had an “adverse effect” on gaining followers.
“This might be because Twitter is a medium dominated by very weak social ties, and negative sentiment from strangers may be unpleasant or uncomfortable for a potential new follower to see,” the researchers wrote.
“There becomes a level of distaste when people are really snarky after a while,” said Sara Kerr, an assistant professor at St. Catherine University who teaches social media in marketing. “People don’t retweet or reply.”
A separate study out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that “liking” a news story online led others to do the same. Alternatively, voting down a story to express disapproval had little long-term effect.