A Hate Experiment

I’ll be frank, we are ending the #refugee Card Game Kickstarter campaign early. We aren’t going to hit the funding goal but that does not mean that we are stopping development on this project. We’ve already sunk too much time, effort, and work into this. We know people would enjoy the game and we know that there is a potential audience out there that would benefit from and really enjoy this game. We just aren’t reaching them yet.

We conducted a little experiment recently. We developed an International Relief tier to help international backers of the game mitigate shipping costs by bundling two copies of the game and heavily subsidizing the actual shipping costs. We then promoted it using Facebook’s “Boost Post” feature to countries outside of the US that primarily spoke English. After that, we sat back and watched what unfolded. And what unfolded can only be described as “hate”.

Our promotion ran for 3 days and amassed 13,414 views from 11 different countries. According to Facebook, about 400 people interacted or engaged with the post in some way— nearly all of it was to express hate or to make a joke. I’ve written and re-written this essay four times over the last three days and I’m sitting here at 2:00AM and I am just sick of it. I’m sick of this essay, I am sick of the hate, I am sick. I have a cold too, but that isn’t the issue at hand here. People just don’t get it. We’ve tried to lay it out here as plain as day that the #refugee Card Game is a game that is fun and also tries to make us a little more empathetic, a bit more understanding, a tiny bit more human.

Hate is a powerful emotion. I underestimated it, I really did. Nothing gets people to slam that share button and type messages faster than hate, anger, and indignant rage. It is a concept as old as tabloids, even older than that I’m sure. You see it all the time, people are eager to tear things down rather than build them up, to be afraid and lash out as opposed to working together and acting in good will.

People hating the #refugee Card Game isn’t a bad thing, though. It really isn’t, if anything, it is a strong predictor of the potential it has to spread. One of my favorite articles of all time is Jonah Berger and Katherine L. Milkman’s “What Makes Online Content Viral?” I know, generic enough title. This 2011 article from the Journal of Marketing Research is a gold mine of information and insight because it quantifies and demystifies one of the strangest things we encounter on the internet, other people. Alright, that’s an overstatement, what it really attempts to shed some light on is how other people spread things online, and the answers are painfully obvious, and yet, still very disappointing.

The article is over 6 years old now so even the data in it is probably worthless, but it is still worth a cursory glance. Stories, videos, article, gifs, and memes are just some of the things spread around online to other people with the original consumer acting as a vector. We haven’t yet hit that beautiful futuristic dystopia we’re all eagerly awaiting for when our machine-made memes are beamed directly into our cortex via lasers and drills— we would never have to witness a friend sharing content online again. People spread things online, over 50% of social media users report spreading content online, completely unprompted. We’re a social, tribal species. This goes way back to our ancestors that saw this really cool fruit and shared it with their entire clan. We are programmed to share, it feels good. Invoking emotions in someone else gives the invoker a bit of that same emotional high. When you see that cute cat and you feel, you show your friend who also loves cats and you feel even more, you double-dip. This is a basis for stories going viral, for spreading.

Some would argue that it is completely random which things online go viral, but I’d argue against that because I have eyes and a brain and can see how many millions of dollars companies are pumping into ads to make them go “viral”. There is an underlying pattern and that pattern takes advantage or really abuses basic human instincts. Going back to Berger and Milkman’s article, they were able to see what emotional responses were “activating”, these are emotions that would get a person inspired or fired up, drive the spread of content online. This is in contrast to content that catered towards “deactivating” emotions, feelings that are real downers. It didn’t matter if the content evoked these strong emotions in a positive light or a negative, if people loved it or if they hated, if they felt strongly in either direction, the consumer of the content would simply be more likely to share it, to pass along the disease. The real kicker is that their results were consistent across the board even when controlling for factors of surprise, the source of the content, or even the content’s usefulness to the consumer’s own lives. This is why people would rather share a listcle on the top ten offensive viral marketing campaigns as opposed to reading an incredibly informative scientific article on what makes things spread online. Yeah, you reading this right now, this is a real jab at you. Fight me.

The word refugee invokes hatred on so many points. Apparently, people hate refugees, they really, really hate them. Maybe it is xenophobia, maybe it is politics, maybe it is that tribal basis deep in our genetics. Granted, we acknowledge that the hate seemed to center around a certain sector of refugees that happen to be flooding the news right now. The point here is that there are other refugees that don’t fit into the negative stereotype that people hate and fear.

On our promoted post, I saw so much just obvious and outward hate for people who are just trying to escape, to seek refuge. People really have no idea about the differences, or even definitions, of refugees, immigrants, migrants, displaced persons, etc. It is easy to be afraid and hate something that you don’t understand. People also hate the #refugee Card Game because they think that the game is exploiting a current crisis. This isn’t true. The game is pretty educational and we hope to really give back to refugees that inspired the game through non-partisan humanitarian aid and charities but we can’t do that until after we’ve developed and published the project. To get to that step, we first have to get through the Kickstarter campaign so we can get this game made and out there on store shelves. The first step is the hardest.

The hate is real and the hate is strong and we can use it, we can get into flame wars and tick off more people but is that what we want? It is draining and discouraging and hard, so hard. It sucks, it just plain sucks that we can’t try to make a fun thing people can play and not have to deal with the hate, but deal with it we must.

So, I just want to thank you all for interacting with our promoted post over the weekend. Thank you for posting anime jokes about Chile’s bloody communist revolution. Thanks for calling us liberal cucks. Thanks for letting us know that Sweden is being gutted by refugees. Thanks for the covfefe references. Thanks for suggesting we use refugees to delve into “class warfare”. Thanks for the pain. Thanks for the hate. You will help us succeed, your blind rage will drive this project to succeed and to help those in need. You are helping people by doing what you do best, absolutely nothing. You sit there on your computer and spew hate into your community in the easiest, least-committal way possible, via Facebook, and you are genuinely going to change the world just a little bit. For every 50 people that spread this campaign, citing that we’re killing people, I’m sure one person will see the wrong in that statement and chip in to help us. Just keep it going. Do the right thing and, the simple thing, spread the hate because you can’t be bothered to get up and help those in need. We’ve used you, you’re our parasitic vector to infect everyone around you and we can’t be happier. We’re not sorry, I’m not sorry. I’m only human, just like all those refugees, and we’re all trying to survive and share our game to help reach people but right now, we just aren’t reaching those who would most enjoy and most benefit from the game. We jus aren’t quite there.

Thank you to all our potential backers, those that backed the game and I’m sorry it won’t be coming out from this Kickstarter campaign. Be sure to check our website and twitter and I promise you, we will be back. Thank you for believing and trying to improve the world. Thank you for your support. We will be back because, just like the refugee crisis, this isn’t something that’s going to go away any time soon. We will launch another campaign later this year or early next year. We are retooling our outreach and marketing and hoping to get on some news sites and really change the world. Thanks for letting that happen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *