Social Media and the History of Aggression

social media and aggression

By Mark Schaefer

I’m going “off road” today and bringing you a completely different sort of blog post … a post filled with danger, evil, and intrigue. Yes, it is going to get weird.

Our story begins when I took a day of luxury last week and treated myself to time at the British Museum, perhaps the most magnificent museum on earth. I began my visit with a special exhibit about Vikings and their brutal plundering and enslavement of innocent people. I moved on to galleries dedicated to Medieval battle axes, swords, and tools of torture. I saw an exhibit on Germany and World War I. And so on.

My path through the museum more or less led me through the History of Human Aggression. Most of history is written by aggression in some form.

But that’s all different now, right?

And it occurred to me that we are not far removed from those days.

For most of history, human lives were dedicated to the singular goal of scratching out a living on a little plot of land, hoping that you wouldn’t be attacked, enslaved, or brutalized by bandits, warring tribes, or a corrupt ruler. This is still the daily reality for many people in our world today, by the way.

Tragically, aggression is the core of our true human nature. We may consider ourselves civilized, but we are simply contained. We are held in place by laws (usually), a fear of punishment, or pride in a politically-correct social status. Our world proves without fail that when there is the slightest opening for evil, it runs through and takes over. And every technical innovation — ship-building, metal-making, and human flight, for example — have been exploited to perpetuate aggression.

Social media and aggression

I couldn’t help but contrast this reality with the irony of my own writing. In recent posts I have elevated the idea of “being human” as a winning business strategy, of approaching your audience with enthusiasm and joy, and of adopting “authentic helpfulness” as the cornerstone of a social media strategy.

I believe in this.

And yet, isn’t there still an underlying, unstoppable aggression pulsing through this social media world? Under the thin veneer of rainbow lollipops, Tony Robbins quotes, and gurus shouting “Just do it!” from the mountaintops there is a world boiling with aggression.

  • The comment sections of many blogs and journals have become cesspools filled with bigoted trolls and anonmyous cowards attacking people in the most vicious ways. This week I had dinner with a Muslim blogger who has even received a death threat.
  • There is a constant dark energy of spammers and bots hammering at our websites every minute, tryng to corrupt and break our honest businesses.
  • Google reported at SXSW this year that Syria and other nations are torturing people to get their social media identities, posing as them, and then capturing and torturing their colleagues.
  • Facebook, created to unite global conversations, is also the basecamp for bullying so severe it leads to violence and teen suicide.

As I said, where evil finds a hole, it blasts through.

There was an incident last year that chilled me. A group of hackers decided they wanted the employee of a company fired. They hacked into her employer’s site, took it down, and said they would hold the company hostage until the woman was terminated. She was fired by the end of the day.

The hacker kingdom

Today, even one person with some decent hacking skills can possess a power of aggression that used to be in the hands of kings. They can become a one-person judge, jury, and executioner.

Walking through the museum helped me connect some dots. The fundamental driver of history is aggression and attempts to contain it. A fundamental economic, political, and even creative driver of the Internet is also aggression and attempts to contain it. Every technological breakthrough soon becomes another weapon to enable evil.

Will evil seethe under the surface of the Internet forever, contained? Or will there be a virtual cyber kingdom someday holding an entire company, a city, or a nation hostage? We already know that China has built an army of hackers routinely accessing private company and government files (including Google, and the U.S. Election Commission last year).

I told you it was going to be weird today.

I don’t want to be a downer but but this has been on my mind. I hesitated to even publish this post but I find that when something is bothering me it usually resonates with you, too. So there you go. What do you think?

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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