And You Are Following Me Because?


Building a good Twitter following is a great way to market yourself and get people to be interested in your blog, so I am incredibly lucky to seem to ‘get’ Twitter and have some moderate success in this area.

One thing that I do not ‘get’ however, is why people are so hell bent on following me, when they do not like what I have to say? I try not to be offensive, or controversial, however being a person that literally never gets offended, my humor is probably a bit near the mark sometimes. Maybe you even find my tweets boring, hey ho.

But what really gets me, I mean really confuses me, is if people do find my tweets boring of offensive, then why am I actively having to tell you not to follow me.

It really got me thinking, as I must say, there are a few people that do my head in that I follow. I’m not the biggest fan of some ‘celebs’ yet I still find myself interested in what they have to say. KT Hopkins and Josie Cunningham are prime examples. To be as diplomatic as possible – they are not nice humans. Yet they still rack up hundreds of followers, RT’s and comments.

Katie Hopkins at The Oxford Union to speak to students, Britain - 27 Nov 2013

(Image from the Independent)

Wanting to delve into this more, I spoke to a psychology student, Emma Jane Petty, who shed some light on it all for me in a really interesting piece. You can follow her on Twitter

Here’s what she had to say about following people we do not necessarily like.

“Despite that people don’t like or even hate people such as Katie Hopkins, she is still current news, and still hitting headlines with her controversial tweets, and people would more often than not rather be involved with news than oblivious. Most people find watching world news somewhat upsetting, but we still watch it nonetheless in order to stay involved and well informed. Just last week I was watching Reggie Yates extreme Russia in which he was exploring nationalists’ who expressed extreme prejudice racist and homophobic views, none of which made me comfortable to say the least, but I still watched it despite the rage it made me feel in order to be included in world matters. This is somewhat comparable to how people feel about Katie Hopkins. I don’t doubt that a large proportion of her followers are fans, however, those who aren’t are probably the type of people that would still rather know what her latest controversial view is, so that they are involved with the news or the “gossip”, or alternatively those who absolutely love to argue on the internet, or trolls, which we all know are abundant online. The reason for this is due to the anonymity that the Internet provides, particularly twitter in which users don’t necessarily have to share any legit information about themselves. Even if they do choose to, it’s mostly easier for people to hide behind a keyboard rather than approach someone in person to disagree with their views. This is called dis-inhibition, or named by psychologists “the online disinhibition effect”, which is characterized by users online feeling less inclined to abide by social norms, which would usually be followed in situations or interactions in the “real” world. Psychologist John Suler (2004)* has proposed different contributing factors to the online dis-inhibition effect, which include:

Dissociative anonymity – this is used to explain the anonymity people feel when hidden behind a social media persona, particularly when the information they choose to share about themselves is minimal or false, which also gives them a sense of dissociation – that is, the feeling that they aren’t responsible for their actions/words because of the online persona they have created.

Asynchronicity – when online, people do not always reply immediately, so comments can be sent out without regard for their impact or care for how it will be received. You cannot see other people’s reactions to hurtful or offensive comments, which is another reason people find it much easier to troll online.

Dissociative Imagination – the belief that behavior exhibited online is not real because its “just a game” – a fictional place, further adds to a lack of responsibility for ones own actions. Some people believe they can behave how they please under the persona they choose online and leave the online persona they have created when they turn off the computer, or turn off “the game”, returning to their normal, everyday self.

People are always going to have opposing views, so following someone who doesn’t share the same principals and opinions as you seems counter-intuitive. There are some possible explanations, however it all boils down to the individual. Some people may follow people they don’t like to stay included in news, and to discuss the controversial views they have read with friends or relatives. On the contrary, others are less passive and due to the disinhibition effect feel inclined to express contradictions to those views, argue with others, or even troll just for the sheer fun of it. It’s difficult to determine the true nature of people such as Katie Hopkins’ followers, and as twitter is a pretty anonymous place, it’s also difficult to find out. As for why you might feel more reluctant to unfollow someone you dislike than follow someone you like, perhaps the people you do like don’t add enough entertainment value, and the people you dislike are more newsworthy and therefore beneficial for discussing the views you don’t agree with? This is just a hunch of course; unfortunately, there wasn’t much online psychological research exploring why people follow people that they don’t like. But it’s certainly an interesting area that should be explored more in depth. When we consider that social media is still a fairly new concept, it’s rapid growth is still being explored and there is still much to learn.

It does seem that common courtesy and social norms that we have adopted in everyday life do not thrive online, where everyone is hidden behind a persona. Who people choose to be behind that mask is entirely their decision. I’m reminded of the famous Oscar Wilde quote; “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about” – in the case of Katie Hopkins, controversial news is more of a hot topic to be talked about, the same way that bad news often dominates headlines over good news. This is possibly why people who dislike her still follow her.

Theres more on the online disinhibition effect here:

and here:

* Suler, J. (2004). The online disinhibition effect. Cyberpsychology & behavior, 7(3), 321-326.”

I must say I totally get the thing about being included. I actually don;t like the soaps, but unless I watch them I feel ‘out of the loop’ when people around me talk about them, so I either read the TV magazine so I know whats going on without watching them or chuck them on in the background.

so there you have it folks, thanks to Emma we now have a proper answer.


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