From afar, the perpetual outrage machine we see on so much of our college campuses can often seem silly and laughable. For students in the thick of it, however, the outrage machine is very real and, in many cases, incredibly stressful.
At the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf reports on the effects of campus “call-out culture,” the cultural phenomenon in which “students get worked up over the smallest of issues.”
For many college students today, there is a pervasive “worry about violating social norms, getting called out, and becoming objects of stigma.” Unfortunately, social media—websites like Facebook, Twitter and other social websites—allow students “to be hostile from behind a screen, or to pile on.”
“Today,” Friedersdorf writes, “so many people are declaring so many things problematic on college campuses that the next controversy is almost impossible to predict; it is increasingly common to have done something without any fear of giving offense (say, urging a sushi night in the dining hall) only to subsequently read that the thing you’re on record having done is the object of a huge controversy elsewhere.”
No wonder so many students are stressed out by this. And the risk-averse have it especially hard. “I probably hold back 90 percent of the things that I want to say due to fear of being called out,” another student wrote. “People won’t call you out because your opinion is wrong. People will call you out for literally anything. On Twitter today I came across someone making fun a girl who made a video talking about how much she loved God and how she was praying for everyone. There were hundreds of comments, rude comments, below the video. It was to the point that they weren’t even making fun of what she was standing for. They were picking apart everything. Her eyebrows, the way her mouth moves, her voice, the way her hair was parted. Ridiculous. I am not the kind of person to be able to brush off insults like that. Hence why I avoid any situation that could put me in that position. And that’s sad.”
Why would someone who feels that way stay on social media? “I think that students, myself included, have somehow worked social media into our everyday lives so much that, whether we realize it or not, it effects us mentally, physically, and emotionally,” the student added. “Without it, many would probably feel empty … even like their life doesn’t have a purpose … like they’re disconnected from everything.”
Then there are the students who know they will be called out. For some, it is because they are ideological minorities: liberals at religious schools, conservatives at secular ones.
As one student writes: “I used to look forward to my college years as a time of open dialogue about the world’s issues, but also as a time of open mindedness, not this reality that I live in, where students are hesitant to speak out against the group think.”