The Art of Infuriation


Many people remember the “school adds litterbox for furry students” news report. If you don’t for some reason, it’s exactly how it sounds. The story took the internet by storm, be it from the thundering roars of furious parents or the flurry of memes resulting from the story. It would be later revealed that the story was a fake, which sounds blatantly obvious now, but really hoodwinked people in the U.S.

Let’s rewind back to the angry parents. It’s no surprise that people were vexed, as litterboxes being implemented in school restrooms is distressing information. From a logical point of view, it’s degrading to most people and certainly very unsanitary. However, isn’t that an obvious fact? This sensation is obviously what many online users call “ragebait”. Ragebait is any content (especially digital) that uses headlines or subject matter altered in a way to summon an uproar. It mixes “clickbait” and “rage” for an irresistible concoction to attract attention. People who use various means of media to aggravate people are called “trolls”, and ragebaiters are certainly considered an online troll. Attention given to a troll’s ragebaited post would later turn to outroar. Ragebait includes headlines, blatant immoral opinions which are only brought up to trigger people, manipulation of media to appear worse than it is, or flat-out misinformation. To misinformed people, an imaginary student who identifies as a cat demanding a litter box at school is horribly confusing, if not something to fuss about.

More importantly, ragebaiting has a very dangerous purpose: it intends to elicit an equally enraged response. It can be about litter boxes and schoolchildren, how “bikini bridges” are the newest hot thing, how racecar driving is like cheerleading, or even how the other political party wants to open all borders everywhere. In some cases, ragebait can even target minority groups to try and entice hatred and fuel online hate campaigns even if their information is false. A lot of people can’t detect ragebait, from teenagers to the elderly.

To get more information on the topic of present ragebaiting, I asked my friend Hannah. Hannah frequents a variety of online forums related to her hobbies, so she has encountered many of these types of posts.

Tia: So, to start off, what would you consider a ragebait post?

Hannah: I consider ragebait posts to be intended to stir up debate or discussion, usually about a politically charged or current “hot button” issue, things that are socially relevant to people today. Social issues such as the matter of LGBT rights and representation, abortion, and women’s rights, etc. are often the subject, though they can be anything, as long as it’s controversial, and I consider them to be posts that appear on social media where user-to-user engagement or interaction happens, but ragebait can even appear in the form of news articles from news sites with a clear and obvious bias or agenda.

T: Do you have any recent examples in mind, by chance? It seems like the posts would be more prominent these days than ever.

H: I have plenty of examples in mind, I have seen posts online which are very obviously made in bad faith and about controversial topics. I am someone who plays a lot of video games for example, and I find that in many online communities surrounding video games, people will push their views with these types of posts. It’s very common to find posts expressing dissent or even disdain towards LGBT characters in video games (also with other media, such as tv shows or movies). These posts are prominent in the political landscape of today, and I find it often muddies the waters of online discussion as a result.

T: That makes sense with how large online communities are with gaming. In that case, what “baits” do you think pop up the most? Would it be LGBT discussions as of late or something different?

H: Mhm. As I mentioned, hot button social issues are common topics for “ragebait,” and LGBT rights, especially trans rights are a popular topic – likely because trans people are still not yet as accepted as other parts of the LGBT community who generally can enjoy more rights and acceptance. Other topics like abortion, systemic racism and the justice system, and climate change are also some examples of common topics. I think these reflect the current social issues that are relevant to everyone, and are especially relevant to young people, who are ever-present on social media.

T: It’s unfortunate, but it does make sense. So, do the trolls respond to the people who engage with their ragebaited post?

H: In my experience, it depends on the poster. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t. That said, it’s common for trolls who post to never engage beyond the initial post, and maybe a few engagements beyond that at most – but typically, they don’t need to do any engagement themselves. Because these topics are controversial, they often gain traction regardless of whether the person who made them engages in the conversation.

T: It really is just a trap. So, can you recognize a ragebait post disregarding the content? Is there any way to detect it?

H: It depends on where the post is, but there are ways you can try to identify posts which are made only as ragebait from real posts. For example, many social media sites and forums allow you to view the poster’s post/comment history and their account age. Brand new accounts, or accounts which are very old but have few posts to no posts, or only engage in controversial topics, for example – are much more likely to be troll or puppet accounts. For news articles, it’s important to do research on the site the article is posted to. You can get an idea of whether they have a bias or agenda usually just by reading other articles posted on the site, but you can also do outside research by looking around for opinions or verifying any claims they make with outside resources.

T: And puppet accounts are extra and alternate social media or forum accounts made by someone to troll with, to clarify to the audience. Out of all these different sorts of places, what sort of online content do you think ragebait surfaces the most?

H: Social media for sure. Most people who have access to the internet and use it regularly also access social media. Social media is how many of us stay connected with each other nowadays. That means that more people are more likely to be exposed to these posts and engage with them.

T: Well, these people sound like they don’t have a lot to do. Because site moderation is faulty, what do you recommend people do? A lot of people can be gripped by emotion, so some advice for our readers would be helpful.

 H: It can be tempting to put in your opinion, especially on such emotionally charged topics, or topics you relate to, I have that temptation myself often as well. However, I think the best course of action is to simply ignore these posts, and don’t give them the traction they want. Try to remain logical and remember – these posts are not made in good faith; they’re made by someone with an agenda who wants to push a view. The more engagement their posts get, the more people who are exposed to that viewpoint, which means the more likely it is that someone will have their opinion swayed to that view. If it’s a view you consider harmful for social progress, the last thing you want is to allow more people to be swayed to it. Do your research on the posts you see before you engage with them, especially if you suspect it’s ragebait or made in bad faith – check the poster’s history, the age of their account, and if you suspect it’s a troll/puppet account, do not engage. Ignore it, and remember, the person who made it isn’t getting what they want out of you if you ignore it. Report them if it violates the site’s rules, block them, and move on. Don’t show it to your friends or repost it in other places.

 T: Well said, Hannah. Thank you so much for answering these questions, you’ve brought a lot of insight to the topic. To wrap this up, do you have any final thoughts?

H: Happy to answer these questions, as it’s a very personal subject to me. My final thoughts are that I’m someone who is personally affected by many of the social issues that are the subject of these posts, so I see why people often engage with them. It’s hard not to speak about something you’re affected by, and when these posts are made maliciously, it can be difficult to restrain from speaking up and trying to let people know the truth about that subject. Remember, there’s more to be gained from letting it go and doing your part to reduce the engagement they get than there is from engaging with them. The troll isn’t likely to change their mind, so don’t aid in their goal of spreading disinformation or harmful social views. Report, block, and ignore.

In the end, the best “solution” is to simply ignore the content. All the original posters will do is antagonize those who engage in online discourse with them, which fuels the cycle. After all, why do they post the content in the first place? Attention—and we all know that’s the case. Stopping the motive is the solution to ending the problem in the future but for now, bringing awareness only saves people time and sanity.