Cueball states that he feels sad and links it with his observation that bad things are happening. Sadness is a normal human reaction to perceived bad events. (Other emotions that might be felt at such times include anger and guilt.)
He then reasons that it must be someone's fault. If the "bad things" in question are not natural calamities or accidents, it is usually logical to surmise that someone is responsible for them taking place.
After some thinking, he has an idea. Ideas are usually the result of thinking (unless they are a result of computers), although it might not always be conscious thinking like Cueball is doing.
He then blames his "friends on Facebook", a social media website and app, for connecting with and talking to friends and family. While there could be possible reasons for bad events (for example if the bad event was nobody wishing him a happy birthday or someone posting compromising pictures,) his friends would not be a likely source for bad events extending beyond a personal or local scope. Most people have a few hundred (or thousand) "friends" on Facebook, most of whom do not have enough influence to cause bad events on a national or global level.
This is a reference to people ranting on social media sites (like Facebook) about various things which are blamed on certain people (or sometimes everyone), but the person doing the ranting never thinks that the problem might be with themselves.
One read on this is that, many people, including some news sources, have pointed out that social media forms an "echo chamber", and some sources have claimed that this is responsible both for political polarization (see this video) and even for the recent victory of Donald Trump in spite of Randall's endorsement of Hillary. Therefore, blaming social media for the election can be read as blaming his friends echoing his ideas back to him as causing (partially) Clinton's loss; thus they are (partially) at fault for his presumed sadness over her loss in the election. A second read on this would be that constant reminders of Clinton's loss only serve to make Randall sadder: again the proximal cause being his friends' posts. A third read would be that friends with whom Cueball/Randall disagrees are posting things that he finds unpleasant to read, either ideas that he finds offensive or inconvenient, or posts "rubbing in" the victory of the candidate Randall opposed.
The fourth meta-read is that Cueball (as very much distinct from Randall) is not especially smart, and Cueball's mistake here is something that Randall has seen other people make, and Randall is bitter that many people are making said mistake -- not only will venting on Facebook be counterproductive generally, in particular blaming your Facebook friends for the loss of your favored candidate will only make your interpersonal relationships more difficult, such venting will do nothing to correct the root cause of the sadness, partly because a small group of people is relatively powerless, and partly because the very nature of self-selecting Facebook friend-groupings forms a bubble of insular ideological uniformity. Convincing yourself that your ideological allies are to blame, and then alienating your ideological allies by unfairly blaming them, is dumb; that is the point of the comic, that this "bright idea" that Cueball comes up with in panel three, is actually so dumb of an idea as to be humorous.
In real life, where Randall supported Hillary and is sad she lost, one might infer that Randall has seen real-life ideological allies blaming each other: you should have worked harder for the campaign, you should have donated more, you never should have been mean to that Bernie supporter, you should have listened to me when I said we needed to get out the vote in Michigan, and so on and so on. Finding a perceived problem, and then blaming your ideological allies as being the cause of that problem, makes it LESS likely that the actual problem will be corrected in future elections, thereby perpetuating the sadness. Not only is Randall sad that his candidate lost the election, he is sad that Facebook 'friends' are accusing each other of being to blame, and he is expecting to remain sad in future election-cycles thanks to the disunity and infighting that were the byproduct of THIS election-cycle. See also: 'vicious circle'.
Thus, the comic is actually intended to be entertaining, but also intended to have a moral lesson, like Aesop's fables: if you lose an election because turnout for your candidate was lower across the board than in was in 2012 and 2008, picking fights with your ideological allies will not help you in 2020, because that will only further disunify the factions within your coalition. The only way to increase turnout for one's preferred candidate, is to expand the coalition by bringing new voters -- and in some cases re-enticing former voters -- to join with you. Difficult to do when you spend all your time blaming each other. Somewhat ironically, this plain message is something that Randall cannot put forth... because telling your ideological allies that they need to stop blaming each other for the problems of the 2016 election-cycle, or they are gonna screw up the 2020 election-cycle, is in itself a way of blaming your allies! Thus, the comic makes fun of people who blame their ideological allies for not being very bright, but also shows that Randall himself may not have been able to figure out what to do either... which is a cause for sadness, indeed, and one that cannot easily be corrected. Even though Randall understands the problem, and can make humorous comics which illuminate the trouble, and poke fun at the counterproductive nature of blaming one's local allies for national or global setbacks, that does not mean he can keep people from falling into those counterproductive habits (himself included to some degree).
The title text refers to people venting. The (humorous) assumption here is that one will feel better after doing so. While some amount of venting might help to relieve stress caused by bad events, alienating people you know by blaming them for bad events usually causes more stress in the long run. (See above explanation about how blaming ideological allies can become a vicious circle.) The fact that he recognizes his friends are scared, like him, but still thinks yelling at them is a good idea shows he's more interested in making himself feel better rather than caring about the well being on his friends. Additionally, "yelling" on social media would likely only increase the influx of:
- Political posts reminding Cueball of his sadness.
- Angry messages back at him.
- Reminders of the reason he's sad, including possibly "rubbing in" the sad feelings.
- Posts designed to offend Cueball, including posts designed to offend his political sensibilities.
- New & improved reasons to be sad, such as being unfriended for incorrectly blaming his acquaintances.
- Future vicious-circle reasons to be sad, including picking future candidates which are a poor compromise and losing future elections.
All of these would make him feel worse, potentially in relatively short order.
- Cueball (thinking): I feel sad.
- Bad things are happening.
- Cueball (thinking): They must be someone's fault.
- But whose?
- [Cueball makes several thinking poses before a light bulb appears, indicating he has an idea]
- Cueball (thinking): My friends on Facebook.
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This comic is one of Randal's best EVER! It is a scathing and biting commentary on the current angst of a huge swath of liberal and progressive snowflakes.
The first panel sets the stage with a subtle but jarring inversion of the normal human response "bad thing happened >>> I feel sad" to the much more autocentric "I feel sad >>> bad things are happening" Worth a derisive snort in its own right, we can accept this little lapse since we are deluged with so many examples of such self interest from every direction today. Ignoring the little deviation ( never something one should do with xkcd) we accept the lead-in panel as simply saying "bad things are happening"
The second panel is a riff on the "something bad happened therefore someone is to blame" meme of modern Western society - examples such as blame the coffee supplier if one scalds oneself spilling hot coffee, blame the company that grinds up and sells powdered rock for any perceived negative effects of assiduously dusting said powdered rock over ever body orifice and breathing it for thirty years. This is a masterful set up! We now know where the joke is going! Cueball is going to come up with an absurd and funny scapegoat for the bad things happening in panel one! We are ready for the punchline....
But the punchline is not that at all! It is exquisite! The blame is on Cueball's Facebook friends! We hang in the moment of disbelief where our world view must be reset! Then it hits! We realize the the blame is not for "bad things happening" at all - we have been set up, had! The blame is for Cue ball's "Feeling sad"! It is not for all the harm, blood, guts, and gore that are really happening in the world but for the fact that something - his Facebook friends specifically, have caused him to think about these bad things, penetrating his safe bubble and making him sad.
That the "bad things" are more than likely simply the shocked and hurt feelings of Cueball's friends as a result of the recent 2016 election only heightens the joke. No real human suffering is usually openly discussed in the shallows of Facebook. We realize this and the satire is complete.
The mouse over text emphasizes the break from real issues to the relatively shallow feelings (being "scared") and even more shallow and petty response (yelling at them). 126.96.36.199 19:42, 20 November 2016 (UTC)
You seem to lack the skill of introspection. It's not the "inversion of normal response" (bad things are happening because I feel sad), it's an observation that I feel sad and the investigation into why that is. [I feel sad. (Why is that?) Bad things are happening. (Why are they?) They must be someone's fault. But whose?] The punchline is that Cueball's conclusion that his Facebook friends are to blame indicates the state of intense frenzy on the site. 188.8.131.52 18:43, 10 December 2016 (UTC)
It seems like he's talking about all of the bad things that have happened in 2016 so far making fun of Facebook posts that blame everyone for the things that are happening
184.108.40.206 05:21, 18 November 2016 (UTC)
- In particular the recent election220.127.116.11 08:16, 18 November 2016 (UTC)
Is this a reference to the "echo chamber" issue raised in recent US election? I.e. blaming my friends on facebook for only sharing stories that reinforce my biases and thus my failure to be fully informed about why people who disagree with me do disagree and only blaming them for being dumb isn't a failing on *my* part, but on my friends' parts for only sharing echo-chamber-y material. 18.104.22.168 10:03, 18 November 2016 (UTC)
I definitely think it's worth mentioning that this comic is, while written to be timeless, clearly a reaction to the election. (Randall has endorsed both Obama in 2008 and Clinton this year, and judging by #500, cares more than a little, so it's hard to conceive that this *wouldn't* be about the election.)
There are two types of Facebook activity that may be the target of this satire: 1) engaging in angry arguments with Facebook friends with *differing* political opinions, and 2) making numerous angry posts and comments against the other side, despite the fact that they’ll mainly be seen by *like-minded* people in your social media echo chamber. I expect that this comic is aimed at both: 1) the futility of internet arguments has been a topic before, while 2) the title text specifying “scared friends” clearly indicates like-minded people. 22.214.171.124 10:22, 18 November 2016 (UTC)
- Just added the "friends who disagree" to it.
By focusing on blame he has cleverly shifted thinking to Q:"are your friends on Facebook to blame?" A:"probably not as they are almost all likely to have similar views to you" Q:"So why vent anger on Facebook to people who aren't to blame and you don't want to change?" A:"errrrrr...." 126.96.36.199 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
There are 3 references in my recent edit. If you go into the source code, you can see the links, but I lack the wikipedia knowledge to get them to properly link out. Help? Djbrasier (talk) 14:13, 18 November 2016 (UTC)
Couldn't it just be that it is usual for politicians to blame "the others" (countries, etc) to justify that things are not all good in the country, and then, proceed to threaten to do bad things (go to war, revoke treaties, etc) to appease the "country's inner sadness" (and, through this, get votes) ? 188.8.131.52 14:53, 18 November 2016 (UTC)
My inclination was to take this as satirizing the number of people who have taken to Facebook to rant about an event that was clearly not the fault of one's immediate circle. However one feels about the election it's clear that spewing venom at anyone who happens to be in your Facebook list is unproductive at best and certainly isn't addressing any appreciable portion of the cause of these events. It seemed to be supported by taking the hover text as a continuation of the problem, suggesting that Cueball has devolved to seeking catharsis. 184.108.40.206 17:00, 18 November 2016 (UTC)jrow
- Agreed, I took this comic to be a satirical attack on people who post all caps angry messages on Facebook. EX: "I can't believe all you people did this!" , when 90% of their friends probably agree with them (See "Echo Chambers" comments)- it's almost certainly in context of the election, as "Scared Friends" represents a great many Clinton voters very well right now. The clear interpretation to me is that people posting these angry Facebook rants are not going through normal, well-thought out processes.220.127.116.11 23:11, 18 November 2016 (UTC)
This explanation currently claims venting can reduce stress. I have heard that venting actually makes you angrier. (First Google hit appears to be a scientific paper: https://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/jbickfor/bushman2002.pdf ). 18.104.22.168 20:53, 18 November 2016 (UTC)
The reference to yelling is obviously sarcasm. Nobody would really suggest the absurd idea that Randall really thinks yelling at friends is acceptable, so really what is being highlighted is that yelling at friends is NOT a good idea. The explanation text should not suggest that the idea is anything other than absurd. --Rotan (talk) 00:15, 19 November 2016 (UTC)
This could be a critique of the specific social media. The true meaning being expressed by what is not included: "My Friends on Facebook" as compared with all the other areas in which one would have friends, e.g. "My Friends at the Coffee Shop" or "My Friends at Work". It could also be intended for the reader to infer through abductive reasoning that the algorithms (user interface) of which facebook is composed may promote this type of behavior. 22.214.171.124 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)126.96.36.199 02:14, 21 November 2016 (UTC)
Why Facebook: http://arstechnica.com/staff/2016/11/its-time-to-get-rid-of-the-facebook-news-feed-because-its-not-news/ --JakubNarebski (talk) 12:35, 19 November 2016 (UTC)
I think Randall is trying to address all the Clinton supporters who said to their longtime social media friends, "If you voted for Trump, you're a sexist, racist piece of ****, and you should get out of my life forever," and other similar things, because there were a LOT of those people on social media, despite every liberal icon from Michael Moore to Bill Maher telling people to protest and to fight much harder than usual, but also respect the political process (IE, don't riot if there's no last minute electoral college switch). When Obama was in the White House, the the far-right Republicans did awful things governed by fear. Now with Trump, I hope the far-left Democrats don't do anything crazy ALSO governed by fear, because that will just lead to more white people becoming Republicans because they felt unwelcome by the Democrats. Just my opinion. 188.8.131.52 19:27, 19 November 2016 (UTC)
It occurs to me that the joke is simply about relative perception. Before facebook the media was the primary source for most people to make political decisions. I have heard it repeated by the media that Trump "used" social media to influence voters. Ergo, similar to that of the gun argument "if guns did not exist, there would be less violent crime" I feel that Randall is making a simile by saying "if facebook did not exist, Trump would not have been elected" and, by extension, we would not know as much about the magnitude of bad happenings in the world. Therefore, the first contact cause of Randall's sadness both before and after the election is Facebook. However, there's a reason he chose to blame facebook users and not just facebook. If facebook users were more like him and generally promoted positive aspects of the world (or at least be more balanced), he theorises that everyone (including Randall) would be more likely to be upbeat and positive. This, of course presumes a number of things, the simplest of which is that the world would be better if things went the way Cueball wanted them to. 184.108.40.206
So uhm, did whoever wrote the above explanation not understand the concept of sarcasm? Because this comic comes off as 100% sarcastic to me, and yet it's taking it very seriously. 220.127.116.11 09:51, 20 November 2016 (UTC)
It's quite simple what it means, I'm not sure why people aren't getting it. Randall is trying to bring balance as currently everyone is lashing out against their own friends on facebook as a result of the anger of Hillary losing. He's being sarcastic to highlight the absurdity of the thought process that people blame their friends for the "bad things happening". I was quite peeved that he got political, but this comic undid a lot of my peevedness. I'm not sure who wrote the page here, but they clearly have no clue what this comic is about? --Drkaii (talk) 00:08, 29 November 2016 (UTC)
It is a bit odd that everyone thinks Randall went political and this is all about the election. I wonder how many more panels will be interpreted in this light before the wounds heal and people get back to work making their life and country work. 18.104.22.168 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
Explain XKCD's talk pages are an art form all their own. Whether Randall is commenting on the election in the comic or not (he probably is), this talk page managed to exactly recreate, like a time capsule, the frenzied insanity of the post-2016 election internet, on which the comic itself is (probably) commenting. The talk page on the comic with the actual endorsement is plenty dramatic, but this one is all the DNA of that week's petty insanity preserved in amber while discussing a comic discussing that week's petty insanity. A++++ would read again. 22.214.171.124 00:39, 27 July 2020 (UTC)