Specs in the City: ‘Hate-Reading’ Phenomenon Keeps People Sane

My roommate was scrolling through Facebook the other day when she gasped.

“Colleen,” she said. “You’ll never guess who just got engaged.”

“Wait, no she did not,” I responded when I saw the relationship change on my newsfeed. “I give it two months.”

For several minutes we both Facebook stalked this mutual friend we knew kind-of-not-really in high school. I haven’t talked to her in years. I barely spoke to her even in high school, and yet we are friends on Facebook and for some reason I feel qualified to comment on her love life.

I’m not qualified, obviously, but I can’t bring myself to delete this old high school acquaintance because there’s a small part of me–a sad, mean-spirited part–that secretly likes to loathe her.

For a long time, I was ashamed of this pleasure I got out of following feeds of people just to laugh at their posts. But a recent article in The Seattle Times told me I am not alone in this habit.

Apparently, reading and following blogs and newsfeeds of people we don’t really connect to is a popular thing within today’s digitally-filled world.

Researchers are calling it “hate-reading”. And I bet you all have done it.

The Times article describes hate-reading as something that “provides satisfaction from fury-fueled engagement with someone who should theoretically not provide it.”

I see it as being a vindictive, petty jerk and getting away with it.

Dartmouth professor Alexander Jordan released a study suggesting that we underestimate our negative emotions. Often times, the study found, something like hate-reading allows people who are typically cheerful to privately blow off some steam.

As a way to boost one’s ego and self esteem, we follow and Facebook stalk people that we don’t like so we can consistently remind ourselves that we aren’t them.

According to Jordan, it’s a form of gloating.

I don’t want to condone hate-reading. I think it can be seen as a sign of insecure, frustrated people. But I also know that I do it and it’s kind of comforting to know that I’m not alone. We are all perpetuators of the hate-reading phenomenon.

For me, it seems similar to the reason I watch dramatic and over-the-top T.V. shows. I am a long-time fanatic of Pretty Little Liars– a story of four girls whose lives are basically just a sh** show.

I don’t think I watch it because I am particularly drawn to the plot or the characters. I watch it to remind myself that my life is much simpler than theirs.

Is this a bad habit? Maybe.

Is it kind of pathetic? Probably.

Is it relatively therapeutic? Yes.

Of course there is a fine line between this sort of attitude and actually being mean and vindictive to people, and I definitely think we need to be careful.

But I’m probably going to stay Facebook friends with those people from high school and old jobs that I never talk to now. I just want to see what they post and occasionally comment on their lives with my roommates.

Who knows, maybe they’re doing the same with my profile.

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