Did burning California get you enough likes?

Illustration by Roe Gassett | The Signal

Instagram likes, Facebook reactions and retweets are some of the highest valued currencies of this day and age. Social media users capitalize on life events: proposals, weddings, gender-reveal parties and prom-posals, users are always trying to outdo one another in an attempt to gain their 15 minutes of internet fame.

Social media has created a positive feedback loop that is exacerbating these insecurities. People will do anything for clout, and this endless chase has resulted in real-world destruction.

The El Dorado wildfire began when an expecting couple lit a “smoke generating pyrotechnic device” to celebrate the reveal of the sex of their unborn child. The couple put an incredible amount of forethought into the event, bringing four whole water bottles in case their pyrotechnic device would ignite the dry field.  

What, may you ask, could have compelled these individuals to believe lighting an incendiary in a dry field during wildfire season would be a good idea? Social media validation.

In recent years, people have drowned and accidentally burned down their apartments while proposing to their partners in over-the-top ways. Teens have used racist signs to ask their peers to prom, hoping the shock value would get them more attention. COVID-19 outbreaks have stemmed from weddings that some couples, and the social-media-wedding industrial complex, refuse to put on hold.

For example, gender-reveal parties have escalated from colored cakes and confetti to airplane flyovers, deadly DIY pipe bombs and mass arson. Most recently, the El Dorado wildfire in California has burned over 22,000 acres, caused the evacuation of 3,467 citizens and claimed the life of firefighter Charles Morton who was only 39. 

In his book “The Gospel of Technology,” neuroscientist and author Abhijit Naskar writes, “Humans are lamentably insecure creatures, and often they pick up their modern devices to alleviate that insecurity, in a subconscious attempt to receive some thrill and reward.” 

Naskar states that this behavior is often habitual and addictive, causing users to lose their mental stability. 

Social media has created a positive feedback loop that exacerbates these insecurities. When someone makes a post that gets likes, they feel validated and want to post more. Increasingly over-the-top posts receive more likes, and more positive feelings of validation, allowing users to quantify their popularity amongst their peers.

Instagram was met with backlash last year when they tested the removal of like counts on posts. CEO Adam Mosseri stated that the company “will make decisions that hurt the business if they help people’s well-being and health,” publicly acknowledging that the visibility of likes allows users to quantify their popularity among their peers.

Without considering the consequences of their actions, this expecting couple and their peers have caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage from this wildfire and, most importantly, the life of a first responder. How far will someone have to go before our society takes a step back and realizes the horrors this positive feedback loop can create?

Nobody cares about your life events more than you do. If you feel influenced by social media to pull off a grandiose, over-the-top celebration that could potentially risk the lives of yourself and others if something were to go wrong, it’s time to reevaluate your priorities. 

For the love of all that is good in this world, just get a cake next time.