Outrage has become a social currency. First strategically enacted by Kris Jenner in the handling of Kim Kardashian’s sex tape. Let the outrage happen, just look not simply damn good but desirable while all the eyes are you. Folks will be hot while typing away essays, but all you need is a handful of folks to go “ohh but I like her shoes” and outrage becomes profitable.
What’s transformed outrage into a truly profitable social currency are the algorithms behind every social media platform that are built to suck you into a digital rabbit hole. Your timelines on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok are fueled by an algorithm coded to show you what is most likely to engage you. And engagement is not only what you click and comment on, but what do you pause on, take a beat and read. The algorithm reads what are you ingesting overall, making engagement is the currency of the attention economy. And what has proven to be most sticky in grabbing ones attention and therefore engagement? Outrage.
Outrage is what you would consider effective engagement: where there is a flash of an emotional reaction, either positive or negative, to content. We are more likely to read, comment, and share content when it evokes strong emotional reactions. Outrage is easier to manufacture. And because we are filtering so much of our information through social media timelines with character limits and captions or tweets that need to be read with the quickness of a swipe, many of us are getting our news through what is essentially, headlines. How many of us have actually ventured over to TheShadeRoom’s blog to get what is the whole story on an Instagram post? I’ll wait…
Headlines are now packaged to grab our attention, our clicks and our shares. Headline packaging is an actual term. To quote Felix Salmon for Niemans Lab: “Even with the best-crafted headline in the world, for every person who clicks on it, there are hundreds, if not thousands, who see it, digest it, and simply move on. People get their news from headlines now in a way they never did in the past.”
To pivot to outrage in the time of social media influencers, we have Tekashi69 and Bhad Bhabie who have catapulted to some semblance of a career via outrage. Then the emperor of YouTube, Pewdiepie has successfully used outrage to sustain and further his career. A blistering example of who gets to benefit from the outrage versus who incurs the most harm from said outrage.
Tekashi69 is exemplary of the trolling that has flipped the outrage for profit on its head. His accession essentially came via DJ Akademiks a herb ass troll himself, the man Erkyah Badu said looked like Jerry from Tom and Jerry — he’s been a mainstay in the hip hop blogging scene for far too long. 6ix9ine used Akademiks as his original promotional vehicle, with a barrage of outlandish news stories originally posted to Akademiks Instagram then making their way to TheShadeRoom. Both Akademiks and TheShadeRoom, currently, are on some sort of payroll to constantly post 6ix9ine, ensuring his appearance on some part of your timeline, eliciting an emotional reaction that captures your attention, even if it is a disdain or a “what is this?” Even that smugness becomes currency. The 2019 federal case against 6ix9ine for his involvement with the Nine Trey Bloods was the icing on the cake for someone who trolled their way into the limelight. He became New York Times headline news. His court appearance as he turned snitch on every and anyone who previously crossed paths with him became timeline fodder that was rapidly shared on social media. His social currency is valuable because of the outrage he continually fuels.
6ix9nine was given an early release from federal prison due to Covid-19 and went right back to having TheShadeRoom as his personal billboard where he’s incessantly inciting outrage amongst hip hop celebrities. His first post prison Instagram live garnered 2 million active viewers with praises from Instagram execs. The outrage leads to attention that makes this man unnecessarily profitable.
Then there’s Bhad Bhabie the young white girl with a slick mouth who became famous for her Dr. Phil clip where at 13 years old she’s yelling to “catch me outside. howbowdah.” Within 7 months of appearing on the Dr. Phil show, Bhad Babie, real name Danielle had a manager who sought her out specifically after hearing the “cash me outside” remix, went on to get into several more public altercations that went viral (including one with Woah Vicky, another white girl who capitalized on the outrage surrounding her), all while boosting her follower count which allowed her to sign a recording deal with Atlantic records. In 2018 there was a New York Times feature entitled “The Big Business of Becoming Bhad Bhabie,” which details how Danielle’s manager basically threw some darts at the wall to figure out what was the best talent she could exploit for revenue and a dart landed on rapper. Hire a few writers, and Danielle pulls features from YG, Lil Yachty, and Meg thee Stallion. She is wildly obnoxious but click on any of her profiles enough to get a whiff of “Go Bestie,” and suddenly there’s the “okay but the song is lowkey a bop” as if they’re aren’t any other qualified rappers or at least Black girls who can sonically offer the same musical selection. It’s Danielle, Bad Bhabie that has your attention.
This is why I try to stay consciously away from the outrage machine. Danielle is very obviously blackfishing. YesJulz laid the groundwork and Bad Bhabie followed and since she’s getting cosigns from other players and influencers in the industry, the most folks commenting on her Instagram is going to do, is spark more outrage, more attention, more potential social currency. As Danielle eloquently puts it: “who made this bitch famous?” You did! Continuosly fucking talking ‘bout me damn! You don’t like the bitch but you steady talking about her. How ‘da fuck ‘dat work?”
You right sis, how does that work?
While we could absolutely pivot to one Jeffree Star, there’s someone else who has mastered the art of outrage for profit even better than the racist antics of Jeffree — Pewdiepie. So much so that New York Times structured much of it’s Rabbit Hole podcast around his story. Episode five, The Accidental Emperor, details how Pewdiepie became the most subscribed to YouTube channel by 2013. Then made a series of anti-semitic, supposedly satire, references from using Hitler’s image and speeches in a video and then somehow finding the humor in paying folks on Fiverr to hold up a sign “Death to All Jews” which did briefly cause him to lose a bevy of his brand deals. Pewdiepie’s response to the barrage of news articles about his anti-semetic jokes was to say there’s two different generations and for his generation anti-semtitism via nazi hitler memes aren’t all that shocking. Which the podcast claims isn’t all that wrong. This bad apology garners even more press and Pewdiepie upticks the outrage by antagonizing the press in return and his fans, Joe Rogan, Alex Jones, so that side of the internet, that side…responded in support of him. Which elevates him to a higher level of influence. I still have “subscribe to pewdiepie” as blocked words on my YouTube channel. His influence is insane and unfortunately for folks like myself who exist on the other side of the internet, the outrage that Pewdiepie victoriously used in his favor, had horrible effects for content creators like myself who saw their Adsense revenue slashed 50-75% as Youtube rolled out new monetization rules to counter advertisers who didn’t want to run ads on videos with anti-semtimism in them and that basically meant YouTube curbed everyone who discussed anything socio-political. I don’t know how that defeats the actions of Pewdiepie but hey man’s just got that exclusive streaming deal with YouTube. All that outrage, all that attention, what wonderful to grab the bag. But before you try it, you know who the outrage doesn’t work for? Black girls…Azealia Banks could never. Unless you want to do a Candice Owens and pimp yourself out for the MAGA crowd. Maybe.