The weird way we laugh on the internet

The most popular emoji this year was ‘tears of joy’. Online, everyone always says “haha” and “LOLLLL”. However in real life, no one laughs.

Online humor works differently than real jokes and laughter. Every day, group chats and social media feeds are flooded with announcements of joy. Many different types: “lol”, “lol”, “lolllllll”, “screek”, “crackle”, “he finished me”, “you did me in” (and other permutations of a chaotic string of letters, which seem to infer that the user He was laughing so uncontrollably that he had some kind of seizure and lost control of his keyboard), ‘crying’, ‘I’m screaming’, ‘I’m screaming!’, ‘I’m counting’, ‘deceased’, ‘dead’, ‘lmao’, ‘lmaoooooooo’, ‘literally laughing out loud’, ‘haha’ (but, please, don’t send me this one because it makes me feel like I’m being arrested so hard by a cop for making the worst joke on the planet), ‘haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa’ , “hahahahahaha”, “haaaaaaaaaaaaahahaa” and of course “😂” and “”.

This is the most familiar form of laughter to me. In your group chats, you’ll regularly see a handful of these, as well as your own separate list which will be sort of similar to mine, but somewhat different. Online laughter, like everything on the Internet, is both public and highly personal, with expressions drawn from a seemingly endless well of a common context and then curated on a collective basis, according to individual preferences, for a personalized feel. But, however you usually see it expressed, you’d definitely agree that everyone on the internet says they laugh all the time. (The hard evidence for this anecdotal note can be seen in the most popular emoji of 2021: “😂”).

In real life (this is where you make a sarcastic joke about how the difference between real life and the internet is no real difference at all) if you say something funny, the other person laughs. Or he might just nod succinctly, smile, and say, “That’s so funny,” which means it’s not funny. Out of the countless ways on the internet, how many of them relate to actual laughter? It certainly can’t be all of them. Or no one will get anything done. Imagine, for a moment, people walking around alone, peeking at their phones and bursting into tears typing “😂😂😂😂”. Imagine everyone walking down the street, on the bus, in restaurants, holding their phones and laughing over their heads – it’s a horrible idea!

Everyone always says “I’m laughing!!!” But he’s not actually always laughing. Online laughter (where, after all, you tend to expect that much of what is being said isn’t really, literally, true) doesn’t necessarily mean that something is funny. They can mean that, and the same expression can be used, alternately, to mean that someone isn’t really laughing, or that they are. Even an expression used to make fun of a bad joke on the Internet can complete and start laughing after a while: use something for sarcastic laughter long enough and it becomes funny to use it for real laughter. It can also mean “that was amusing”, “that’s surprising information”, “so clever of you”, “how stupid”, “I agree”, “Oh my god”, “I nod curtly while smiling and say: “That’s so funny” ‘, ‘Yes, I recognize the cultural impact you’re referring to and I appreciate the hyperbole you’ve put into it’ (a lot of conversations in group chats and social media messages revolve around this kind of formula of shared context, from WhatsApp memes to quoted tweets).

Making fun of someone online is often like this too; Phrases are not literal and are often a wild play of what is happening. It has become standard practice to share an article or respond to something you think is stupid with “LOLLLL”, “😂” or some other form. He effectively says: “Haha!!! What I said there!!! God was so ridiculous that it made me laugh!! God made me laugh!! It’s often done in response to a serious political opinion or a tragic event. This almost never happens in Real life. But it points online to the great collective pretense of social media: No matter how much time we spend online, nothing is going on there dangerous. Being serious or earnest is, in fact, such a bogus mistake that deserves outright ridicule. When was the last time someone said something so stupid that you openly laughed at them?Have you ever done this to someone and didn’t actually mean it with some kind of affection?

I think the melodrama of all this is the most interesting part: “You’re so stupid, I’m laughing at you!” off! ‘I was laughing so much that I lost control of my keyboard.’ This tendency toward unbridled exaggeration is characteristic, not just of humor, but of everything that happens on the Internet. The whole Internet has slipped into an unusual and funny melodramatic conversation. From the frequent evocation of the language of therapy to the speed with which death and graves are evoked in controversy. Don’t get me started on the topic of “accountability”.

This probably happens anywhere where everyone, by design, is vying for attention: people step up plays as a way to get attention and then this spreads far and wide until everyone is working on some kind of extreme drama all the time. Or perhaps it has emerged, over the past decade, as a way to disguise how little is really going on in a place where many of us spend so much of our time. Almost nothing happens online and the stakes are hysterically high.