Social Media: The New Mob Mentality?

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There’s a new mob mentality forming. An anonymous, negative, collective consciousness that greys and smudges the crisp horizons between actions and personal accountability. Now, cowards sit behind illuminated screens, their beady eyes dark and spiteful as they clack at keyboards with numb, fat fingers. They incite hate as they comment, troll and bully through careless words and ignorant opinions. They say things, mean things, things that they would never have the courage to say to another human in person. Hiding behind keyboards and touch-screens, their anonymity inflates their egos and any sense of self or accountability slips away between ones and zeros.

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We’ve all heard of ‘mob’ or ‘herd mentality’. That is, when individuals get together in a group, lose their sense of self and start to act as the group without feeling responsibility for their individual actions. Classic examples of this are riots, looting, and many other instances of violence where people commit acts as part of a group that they would never commit on their own. There’s something about being part of a collective that dissolves personal accountability and causes people to behave in strange ways. Psychologists call this ‘deindividuation’.

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Being part of a group not only makes us commit acts that we wouldn’t commit as an individual but, it also causes us to not act when we should.

The ‘Bystander Effect’ is a phenomenon where individuals don’t offer any means to help a victim when other people are present. The hypothesis is; when there’s a group of people, responsibility and accountability are diffused therefore people are less likely to act. There have been many experiments demonstrating this strange behaviour. In one such experiment, psychologists staged a woman in distress on a public street. The results showed that when there were other people around, only 40 percent of people went to help the woman. However, when there were no people around, 70 percent of people went to help. It’s as if a lack of accountability and social responsibility dilutes our morals, rendering our want to help others impotent.

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Next time you’re walking on a dark street at night but feel ‘safe’ because there’s a lot of people around, maybe it would actually be better if the streets weren’t so crowded. It seems safety in numbers is anything but!

It’s been clear for many years that being part of a group makes us behave differently to how we behave alone. But, how has the internet changed this? We now have giant, global, virtual mobs which have totally changed the social psychology landscape. There’s now a new mob mentality arising.

Related reading: Are we really living in the end times?

The internet has created virtual mobs where all sense of social responsibility is absent. It’s now so easy to comment on something, attack a person or group, or be influenced by mob ideals. I believe that when most people write comments, tweet or post something that attacks another person online, they actually don’t feel as though they’re talking to a person. The virtual nature of communication weakens their sense of self and their social responsibility which impacts their respect for others feelings.

It’s as if all sense of humanity gets lost between screens and servers. No longer do we need to leave our home and join an angry mob to get angry about something together. Instead, we can troll with other anonymous, insecure and angry people to attack, bring down people and spread hate.

Why is it that when we take away personal responsibility, some people slip into a dark, moral-less world where social norms crumble away and our perception and judgement shifts out of focus? Suddenly the edges of good and bad become undefined and concepts like social responsibility become shapeless forms open to interpretation. Does this mean that this, de-individualised negative self is always in us but just dormant, tied down by the fraying ropes of society’s expectations? It’s as if, once the darkness of internet anonymity cloaks us, our inner, unfulfilled desires surface like a drowned and bloated body. Which one is our ‘real’ self?

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Is the internet indirectly shifting this collective consciousness by causing more and more people to cut the ropes of social norms? In this online, virtual landscape, people allow their dark insecurities to rise up through a weakened sense of self and spew down to sweaty fingertips to tap untactfully on keyboards.

The internet is not only allowing us to easily dissolve our sense of self through anonymity, it also exposes us to many ‘mobs’ and allows people to become easily influenced by others’ ideals. In some cases, extreme ideals. You see, I believe that once our sense of self is dissolved and anonymity has cloaked us, we become even more vulnerable to negative mob mentality. It’s as if, with no sense of self, our egos subconsciously desire to attach to something, a false-self, even if it’s hateful and negative group-think.

So what does the future hold? Face-to-face interactions are on the decline, so what will become of our individual self in an expanding virtual, online existence? We no longer identify with causes through attending rally’s or meeting together. Instead, we click ‘like’ and our news feed magically feeds us a global collective. The internet has brought us wonders, it’s changed the world, created positive global societies, but with the good comes the bad, as soul-eating trolls lurk in dark corners waiting to attack your sense of self.


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