Social Media Schadenfreude

I’ll confess. I’m a word geek. I like knowing the history of words, and I love how certain words feel in the mouth. Schadenfreude is one of those words. Come on, say it with me: ‘shahd-n-froi-duh’.Schadenfreude is a German word, first used somewhere around 1895. Its roots are ‘schaden’ – meaning ‘damage’. And ‘freude’ – meaning ‘joy’ (‘schadenfreude/German’ jokes welcome in the comments section). A standard dictionary will tell you it means “enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others.” And whoever raises their hand in protest to announce they’ve never experienced schadenfreude is going to get a big fat rock thrown through their big fat glass house.

Altruistic Punishment

In fact, studies have shown that humans are hardwired for schadenfreude, that the feeling of satisfaction we get from meting out altruistic punishment may have evolved to keep human societies intact.

Yes, it’s poetic justice when when the bullying boss gets publicly dressed down. And there wouldn’t be a market for Hollywood reporting if we all didn’t get a kick out of “Hot Stars With Cellulite”.

Social Cellulite

Social media is rife with metaphorical cellulite. We call them ‘fails’. You can’t swing a cat lately without hitting an article about an online ad campaign that tanked or a rogue tweet that lit up the Twittersphere. And yes, they’re fun to watch. But there are a lot of organizations nailing social media. Maybe they just ‘get’ that their customers are actual human beings – people they trust. Or they dealt with a rogue tweet with compassion and humour. Or they’re simply connecting with potential leads via strategic listening and an honest approach.

No More Schadenfreude

So, for 2012, enough with the schadenfreude. From Morton’s Steakhouse delivering to an airport, to a witty American Red Cross defusing an accidental tweet (and *gasp* not firing the poor sap!), to the Apple Store manager who had a heart, and made a little 10 year old girl’s day (that classy act honoured Steve Jobs’ memory more than an hour of silence ever could) - there was lots to feel proud and positive about in social media.

I for one will be **making every effort this year to resist that gleeful tingle when I see a social media misstep or even a full on face plant. God knows, the next time it could be me. Or you.

**Note: I’ll still be my cynical, eye rolling, crabby self in all other areas of my life.

What are your thoughts? Do we spend enough time celebrating social media wins? Why the constant focus on the losses? 

15 thoughts on “Social Media Schadenfreude

  1. Hi, Linday,

    Thanks for a truly inspiring post. It was the word Schadenfreude which caught my attention and made me read your contribution. Let me share some other German words which have found their way into English for their uniqueness: Luftschloss, Herzschmerz, Heimweh.

    Social cellulite – what a masterful combination, cellulite: something we definitely do not need but which exists in overaboundance! My guess is that it is human nature to enjoy somebody else’s failure or falling face down (thank God it was not me), shortlived glee, and even worse when pointing it out, there is nothing to be gained from it.

    So, I am all the way for NO MORE SCHADENFREUDE and some more empathy and compassion.

    BTW I am a native German speaker! In case you want to discuss some more German words – welcome.

    • “….some more empathy and compassion.” – Isn’t *that* the truth! Hi Barbara, thank you for such a thoughtful comment! I will be googling those German words, as I haven’t heard of them before. Then I’ll start tossing them around like I’ve been using them my whole life! :) I’m so glad you liked the post, and appreciate you stopping by to leave a comment! Best to you, Lindsay

  2. Your heart and your typing fingers are in the right place. I have a blog post brewing about one of my fails. We all like to watch the King fall, but since I am merely a peasant, I hope people learn from it rather than appreciating is as gloat fodder.

    • “…but since I am merely a peasant, I hope people learn from it rather than appreciating is as gloat fodder.” HAHAHA! Ann, this made me laugh out loud! Surely you’re not a peasant!? :) I look forward to reading your post – ping me when it’s up – and no, not to gloat! To say “how brave of her, owning up to a ‘fail’!” – Good God, we’ve all made enough of them over the years, haven’t we…? Thanks for checking out the blog, and commenting. Cheers, LB

  3. Knowing you the way I don’t, there’s no way in hell you’re not gonna giggle at a bit of Germanic mashup happening to the biggest loser or dearest work mate (do you work at an animal shelter?).

    I’m thinkin’ you’re plain old joshin. And, please don’t further test my college minor in German. #ThatIsAll

    • HAHAHAHA!!!! I’ve been *sussed*!! Hey, I’m a mom, isn’t it all about ‘do as I say, not as I do”…?? I did *qualify* my statement with “make every effort to…” All I can do is try, and most likely go down like the Hindenburg in the process. #bestcommentever :)

  4. I think for those of us that work in the digital space as communications, PR, marketing or advertising folk, Schadenfreude takes on a professional bent. Gaffes, fails and implosions happen online all the time – and they are occasionally teachable moments that could offer insights into how to do things differently and more strategically the next go-around. Commenting on those failures gives us professional credence to the extent that we’re observant and mindful of the state of our industry but it certainly needs to be measured and restrained, else it appears spiteful and vitriolic.

    • I agree Jason, there is a bit of “oh, look at me, I would *never* have done *that*” in the reaction/commenting on other people’s fails and foibles. But you know me pretty well, and I *am* the third, ignored child in our family. I *survived* on Schadenfreude!! I’m a gonna try to be more….thoughtful I guess, rather then sniping and snarky in my reactions. :) #yeahright

  5. Perhaps it is a Swedish mindset but feeling glee at seeing others fail makes us feel good about our own achievements, something that in Sweden and Scandinavia is considered somewhat taboo (see Jante’s Law). Not the schadenfreude but being pride of what we can do and have done.

    Things that aren’t really allowed have always had a strange sort of allure to me. But I try to embrace kindness more than anything else these days, so I’ll sing to the same tune and keep my cynicism to a minimum. :)

  6. Hi Fredrik, thanks for stopping by! I think we should all aspire to more kindness and less cynicism – trust me, *I’m* a cynic! LOL It just feels better, somehow. Great to meet you, and keep writing! Cheers, Lindsay :)

  7. It’s funny with all the recent Schadenfreude (new fave word) and mishaps that have been happening, I’ve caught myself second guessing a few posts (that don’t even go beyond the realm of OK). Social media blunders spread like wildfire online. I guess the good thing about social media is that the conversation is always changing. The Schadenfreude doesn’t last too long.

    • Yes, and there have been a few people recently blogging asking why we *are* so quick to draw our online swords when these blunders happen…? I guess because we’re all human. But I am trying to be more open minded these days, and maybe look a bit deeper at the misstep before revelling in it! ;) Operative term there: “trying” – hahaha! :)

  8. Pingback: The Sound of Silence | Write. Think. Do.

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