Anger Is the Cake of the Internet; No Thanks, I’m Fat Enough Already

By Tim Wilson November 08, 2022

You may not be aware of Chrissy Teigen, but she has the dubious glory of being one of the most vilified figures on the world wide web. Married to singer John Legend, her own personal legend includes almost 40 million followers on Instagram, approximately 100,000 times the population of Whanganui, where I grew up.

Last year some mean tweets were unearthed from a decade ago, and her fame soured. She became a pariah. To be fair, wishing someone dead will hardly add to any conversation.

Full disclosure: I personally didn’t know about Chrissy Teigen… until the other week. But her name came up on my commentary slot for Newstalk ZB’s Huddle. Teigen has been accused of pinching the look and feel of a Kiwi baker known as The Caker. Inconveniently this was just after she’d collaborated with the Caker. The pile-on was beginning.

Host Heather Du Plessis-Allan wondered if it was justified.

“Anger is the cake of the internet,” I responded, “I don’t want another slice.”

I meant that righteous fury—which experience suggests is an exceedingly rare treat—is becoming far too common. Consider your own internet experiences. Someone you half know disagrees with someone you don’t know. Person X posts. Y agrees. Z disagrees. Bile flows.

I should have added to the cake comment, “I’m fat enough already… we all are,” meaning that opportunities for anger (righteous or not) already abound in the public square. Too many of us are behaving like we’re at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

In fact, this trough is a business model. A Yale University study published in Science Advances depicts how online networks encourage us to express more moral outrage over time. Why? Because expressing fury online gets more likes than other interactions. The increased likes and shares teach people to be angrier. Oh, and they also raise engagement. Elon Musk’s investment starts to pay off.

The discussion about Chrissy Teigen got me wondering about real-life anger. Is it rising also? Polling company Gallup surveys emotions across 21 countries each year. Their latest data shows that negative feelings, including anger, are at a 16-year high globally.

In some sense, anger expresses our search for right and wrong, that natural human desire for a moral compass.

In some sense, anger expresses our search for right and wrong, that natural human desire for a moral compass. That we would mess up that in the way we seek it is… unsurprising. So how we get there becomes as important as where we land. “People will inevitably battle,” comments U.S Senator Ben Sasse in his excellent book Them: Why We Hate Each Other, How To Heal, “the challenge is how to successfully channel these conflicts into words rather than swords.”

And words that aren’t swords. Here’s the happy ending. The Caker encouraged its followers to support them, not to attack Chrissy Teigen; to act positively rather than negatively.

That’s a kind of ‘cake’ we can all endorse. Would you like another slice? Go on. You deserve it. We all do.

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