Jonah Peretti of Buzzfeed is right. People want to share stories on Facebook that cast them in a better light. It's a show, related to the well-established humblebrag. A collective delusion — that the world is a better place, that you're better people — protected by a circle of heartwarming stories.
They're not actually true. Life is way too messy for these streamlined stories to be true. But truth isn't relevant to a story's virality, its social media potency. There are Facebook users who will pretend to believe — as long as their friends do.
Writing today in Gawker, Tom Scocca has a name for this tone in media: smarm. It is the dominant tone on progressive Facebook. The irony — a cruel turn of history the smarm machine can't recognize because it's too much of a downer — is that smarm was around before.
It's the tone of the final segment on television news, part of the mainstream media syndrome to which blogs were the antidote. The supposed snark of the early Gawkerish blogs was in response to the smarm of television, as well as the pomposity of newspapers.
And now online media has become the mainstream, and the smarm has returned, because it has always been the lowest common denominator of communication, a hollow exchange of insincerity between people who don't really know each other or trust each other.
The very least we can do is to provide a name for this aggravating practice, as Scocca has done. I didn't have any role in commissioning this piece, nor do I share the bleak desperation of Scocca's worldview, but he has done me a great favor: by forging a spike of a name to plunge into a gaseous and elusive enemy.