Social Media and the Drama Triangle

Social media may be punching way above its weight. What was intended to be a great source of friendship across all worlds, seems to have turned into a constant fight fest. Facebook was well-liked until the algorithms meant we stopped hearing what our friends were up to and were instead directed to specific sponsored sites “they” thought were good for us. Worthy or not, who knows, but certainly pretty dull. Time to tune out.

So, following the young – always way ahead of the late adapters – and moving on to Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok these, too, seem to be the preoccupation of would-be influencers hoping to attract enough followers (I think it’s 10,000+) to gain sponsorship and financial reward.

And then there’s Twitter and its not-so-merry band of tweeters. In a time where pleas of “Be Kind” are on everyone’s lips, who would enjoy hearing about the appealing sound of tweets. Except, of course, we know that’s not what the Twittersphere is all about. It’s about FURY, SHOUTING, TROLLING, INSISTING ONLY YOUR OPINION IS RIGHT. And so on. Anything but kind.

There is always one twitterstorm or another because they’re easy game for articles in the old-school media. The way it works is a journalist looking to fill a website looks on Twitter to see what is trending. More often than not, it’s a quarrel that excites. That trend gets picked up, written about, and distributed to millions more readers. And the original “storm” (probably a couple of rude messages) gets blown up into a giant argument which we at home can all discuss and feel as if we’re taking part in some countrywide conversation.

I’ve followed some news stories recently and am reminded of the Drama Triangle, a theory developed by Stephen Karpman, a follower of Eric Berne, the Canadian psychiatrist who developed the psychotherapeutic practice of Transactional Analysis.

Put simply, the idea behind TA is that our life consists of communication transactions that are governed by a series of games. These are not fun games and Dr Berne’s aim as a psychotherapist was to help his clients find a satisfactory way of nativigating through the emotional miseries of such games to achieve a good outcome.

The Drama Triangle is an inverted triangle involving a group of three: the victim, the rescuer and the persecutor.

So, imagine for example, that you are a famous sports person who is accusing another person of racist remarks. In that case, you would be the victim. You are the person who is being picked on. You put this out into the public eye and you are pleased and relieved that the painful episodes you have talked about are supported by many of those who read or hear your story. “This is wrong,” they rightly say. “This should not be happening.”

Those supporters could also be described as your rescuers. They may have not been there when the offence was given but they are going to look out for you and ensure that your complaints are taken seriously and no-one’s going to be unkind to you again. That makes sense and it seems like a good outcome for everyone.

And then … somebody starts taking a look at your own old tweets; tweets you had sent years when you were still a teenager and those tweets are re-reported in the media. Suddenly, the feeling is not so good. Your rescuers may be wondering why they stepped in and they awkwardly step away. Suddenly, you go from victim to persecutor and it’s an uncomfortable position to be in. You apologise but the damage is done.

Or maybe you’re a TV presenter who’s admired within media circles and beyond for your talent across both serious and light-hearted platforms and the public likes you too. You’ve had a meteoric rise from hard work and luck in the print world and you’re now tipped as the next big star presenter on TV.

And then you do a documentary on a prominent family while working for an impartial organisation and there’s a bit of pushback. This time, it’s not tweets that come back to haunt you, it’s one-liners in editorials you wrote in your newspaper days. In another short period you’ve gone from persecutor (through your documentary) to victim of those laying into you for that very same programme. Your employers move into a rescuing role as they tell all the critics they have full confidence in you. You, meanwhile, are probably feeling a little vulnerable.

There’s a final story of a former stand-up comedian turned actor (in my view, very good at both) who seems to have inadvertently launched a pre-emptive strike to save himself from being a victim of the Drama Triangle by confessing to his persecuting ways during his stand-up years and hoping that full and frank disclosure will avoid any future reckonings.

So how do the rest of us avoid these drama triangle moments, particularly where social media is involved? It probably helps if you’re not famous. The fewer people read your tweets, the less likelihood of a backlash.

If you are famous – or know someone is – it’s best to try to remember to stay in Adult mode as TA therapists might advise. Be rational, argue from a logical, reasonable point of view and stay well away from your naughty or emotional Child state. That means no tweeting or social media arguing when you may have had a drink and judgment may be impaired. And, if all else fails, remember to delete your old tweets and/or messages.

Photo by Adem AY on Unsplash

Photo by Alexander Shatov on Unsplash