Will Smith, Chris Rock, and Conflict Entreprenuers


I’m an Oscar watcher. Every year, I try in vain to predict the outcome. This year I failed with a dismal 10% accuracy.

Something happened this year that I never would have predicted: An Oscar nominee physically assaulting a presenter. I really didn’t believe it. Instead, I thought for sure it was some sort of publicity stunt. Then I saw the uncut version of what happened on YouTube. Oh my! That was one angry Will Smith, and Chris Rock was knocked off his game, if not off his feet.

Since last Sunday, I saw and heard about this altercation every day with headlines like: “Chris Rock is seen for the first time today.” (Fox) And comments like, “Chris Rock has schooled us all on how not to escalate a situation.” (CNN quote from memory.) I’ve seen opinion pieces supporting Smith, and those supporting Rock. I’ve even seen an opinion piece about how race influences how we see the incident. Oh, and how this altercation is a symptom of how the pandemic impacted all of us. Someone even turned the incident into a verb, “He’s been Will-Smithed.”


Conflict Entreprenures may be at work here.

Before I heard the author Amanda Ripley talk about High Conflict, I often wondered: Who is benefiting from all the discord? Whoever it is, I’m sure there’s a money motivation. Then Amanda gave it a name: “Conflict Entrepreneurs.” She writes about it in her book, High Conflict.

…people, in dramatically different situations, were drawn into high conflict by similar forces, including conflict entrepreneurs, humiliation, and false binaries.

Amanda explains that journalists are trained to simplify and amplify conflict. Conflict Entrepreneurs exploit or inflate conflict for their benefit. Sometimes they do it for profit, sometimes for a sense of importance, and sometimes just because it can give the satisfying ability to explain the world in binary terms, that’s one of the ways conflict becomes High Conflict.

Twitter as a Conflict Entrepreneur

Social media makes that much easier. The algorithms on Twitter and Facebook incentivize Conflict Entrepreneurs.

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I’m on a 40-day social media cleanse. That’s probably why I noticed how many articles and news stories included Tweets.

Twitter is a little more slanted toward political opinion and its user tend to be younger and more liberal than Facebook.

According to Pew Research:

  • About 20% of Americans say they use Twitter (13% of those users keep their account private;)
  • Twitter has more news-focused users;
  • The median Twitter user tweets two times per month;
  • The top 10% of Twitter users produce 80% of the tweets;
  • 60% of the links to popular websites come from accounts that are likely bots, not people.

(Disclaimer: I have enough followers and I tweet often enough to be considered a media influencer. Early in my Twitter life, I vowed to be a Tweet-positive Influencer.) Life is usually more complicated than X is wrong and Y is right.

I’d really like to leave this story between the two people involved. Will Smith and Chris Rock are both real people with complexities and histories of their own and with each other. They are not just cardboard celebrities void of emotional depth. They are both more than 280 character tweets. Yes, their altercation was a public display. Yet, it has no impact on my life except to be a titillating story. So, again I ask, who’s benefitting here?

Who’s the Conflict Entrepreneur in the Smith/Rock incident?

I’m not sure. At the same time, I plan to continue to try to distance myself from Conflict Entrepreneurs who delight in amplifying conflict.

Here’s a 3-minute video of Amanda explaining High Conflict and how to get out of it. Wait just a minute? There’s conflict in outer space, too! Geesh!