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Conflict Farming is A Social Media Strategy



The comment section has become a battleground, a place where heated debates and vitriolic exchanges often overshadow meaningful dialogue. It seems counterintuitive, but the very concept of the comment section may be the root cause of much of our media strife. While features like liking, sharing, and reporting build up content, the comment section often tears it down, creating a space where negativity thrives.


Social media platforms are designed to monetize your attention and engagement—a buzzword that has become the holy grail of digital marketing. Engagement means participation, and platforms need people to participate in the content so they can hold their attention. This attention is then quantified and presented to advertisers as proof of the platform’s value. The more engagement a piece of content generates, the more advertisers are willing to pay to get their brand in front of those engaged eyes.


But there’s a catch. The algorithm doesn’t differentiate between positive and negative engagement. If a post makes you angry and you spend 30 minutes arguing in the comments, the algorithm sees this as a win. It doesn’t matter if the content is hateful or disgusting; what matters is that it has captured your attention. The more you interact with it, the more the algorithm promotes it, showing it to even more people and amplifying its reach.


This phenomenon creates a vicious cycle. Brands see the power of engagement and will often push content designed to provoke reactions. The more reactionary you are, the more valuable you become to the platform. The only real punishment to content you dislike is to ignore it completely—a concept that seems almost childish in its simplicity but has become a necessity in the social media landscape. By engaging with content you hate, you only make it more powerful.


The Emotional Pipeline

The pipeline of engagement is built on the foundation of emotional responses. It’s much harder to make people react positively; emotions like happiness are difficult to evoke consistently because they are deeply personal and subjective. On the other hand, negative emotions such as anger, fear, and disgust are primal and universal. They tap into the basic instincts of human nature and are much easier to provoke.


These negative emotions are not only easy to trigger but also incredibly effective at driving action. If something makes you angry, you feel compelled to respond. This reaction often leads to a chain of comments and replies, each one fueling the fire. Social media platforms capitalize on this by promoting content that generates strong negative reactions, knowing that it will lead to higher engagement.


Consider the scenario of a content creator posting a controversial list, such as the top 10 NBA players of all time, with Michael Jordan ranked at an absurdly low position. Fans of Jordan and basketball enthusiasts flood the comment section with outrage, each comment and reply boosting the post’s visibility. The platform benefits from the increased engagement, and the cycle continues.


Monetizing Outrage

This system of monetizing outrage is not only profitable but also insidious. It flattens complex issues into simple, often misleading statements that are designed to provoke. Tell New Yorkers that Biggie is overrated, or Taylor Swift fans that her musical skills are subpar, and watch the engagement metrics soar. These tactics deliberately trigger people, knowing that their reactions will drive the metrics that platforms and advertisers care about.


In a landscape where engagement is king, the difference between positive and negative attention becomes irrelevant. More engagement means the algorithm will push the content further, increasing its reach and, consequently, its profitability. This creates an environment where the most provocative content often gets the most visibility, regardless of its accuracy or value.


Conclusion

The digital age has transformed the way we interact with content, but it has also highlighted the darker aspects of human nature. Social media algorithms thrive on conflict and negative emotions, creating a feedback loop that promotes the very content we often wish to avoid. As users, the most effective way to combat this is through mindful engagement—choosing when to participate and when to scroll past. By understanding the mechanics of engagement, we can begin to break the cycle of negativity and promote a healthier digital ecosystem.

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