Private tutor S.L. Lim is an avid follower of several lifestyle blogs and Facebook pages of both acquaintances and strangers, and reading these sites almost always makes her seethe.
Yet it is for precisely this reason - to feed her disdain - that she tracks them religiously. Dubbed "hate-reading", the phenomenon has grown with the proliferation of social media platforms.
In an essay last year, Katie J.M. Baker, a writer for women's interests website Jezebel, defined the behaviour as "visiting a website, Twitter feed or Facebook page for the express purpose of ridi- culing or indulging your disdain for the author and/or content". She added that "unless you're a saint with limited Internet access, you're probably guilty of doing it at some point".
Ms Lim, 28, says she monitors the social media pages of those whom she feels are "overly pretentious or trying to portray themselves as perfect, but whose posts show otherwise".
She says: "I hate-read a few blogs and stalk a few people on Facebook whom I don't like very much in real life because I'm curious. It's like a weird fascination with people who are exhibitionists but try to curate their lives to make themselves seem perfect."
Author Teddy Wayne wrote in a New York Times article last month that hate-reading "provides satisfaction from fury-fuelled engagement with someone who should theoretically not provide it".
Others say they hate-read for entertainment.
An executive who wants to be known only as Aaron says he follows the Facebook and Instagram posts of an acquaintance, whom he describes as attention-seeking and "a really weird character".
"I find him annoying and entertaining at the same time," says the 27- year-old. "His life is full of drama. He falls in and out of love within a matter of days."
Online communities have also sprung up where hate-readers can commiserate with one another about the people they track. These include the forums on the website Get Off My Internets (www.getoffmyinternets.net).
Dr Lim Sun Sun, an associate professor of communications and new media at the National University of Singapore (NUS), says three processes are at work in hate-reading - social comparison, online voyeurism and disinhibition, which is when people feel unfettered by the usual constraints of social conventions that guide their public behaviour.
"People typically engage in downward social comparison, that is, comparing themselves to people who are in a poorer situation than them, so as to feel better about themselves," she says. "When people engage in hate-reading of the posts of someone who is seemingly high-profile and annoying or obnoxious, and they read about how this person is being ridiculed online, they feel a sense of superiority."
Dr Joel Yang, head of the master of counselling programme at SIM University, says hate-reading is, at the very least, preferable as a means of catharsis to writing angry comments on the posts of people whom one finds irritating.
"We are more likely to compare ourselves with others who seemingly have everything we want. With social media, we are able to peer into their daily activities and are now privy to their not-so-perfect lives," he says. "Perhaps a sense of relief comes when we realise that these people whom we adulate are not so different from ourselves."
But he cautions that indulging too much in hate-reading may cause people to start viewing the world through critical lenses.
"Be aware of this phenomenon and, as with some of life's other simple pleasures - say, ice cream or chocolate - don't indulge too much," he advises.
Xiaxue, 29, whose real name is Wendy Cheng, is no stranger to the phenomenon. On the Frequently Asked Questions section of her blog, she writes that people read her blog because "I've been told I am funny, honest, open and give interesting viewpoints. Or that I have great hair. Apparently people also read me because they hate me. But you go ahead and form your own opinion."
She tells SundayLife! there are Facebook pages and online communities set up for those who "hate-read" her blog and share their grievances.
While she feels that active members of such groups probably do it "for the attention" as others will read and respond to their comments, she admits to doing the same.
"I don't like pop singer Rihanna but I follow her just to see when she posts pictures that are gross," she says. "She recently posted one of herself almost naked and a few of my friends follow her too, so we talked about it - 'Did you see her latest pictures? How slutty!' - that kind of thing. So I can understand where they are coming from."
At the end of the day, Ms Lim says hate-reading is a way for her to decompress.
"These bloggers usually have tons of fans who defend them through everything and make me think I'm crazy to feel the bloggers are incompetent," she says. "So when I hate-read or take part in the hate-reading community, I feel like there are like-minded people."
This story was first published in The Straits Times on Oct 6, 2013
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