Nowadays, you can make one off the cuff comment, and next thing you’re being attacked by an angry online mob. It seems like we have reverted back to the medieval “bring your pitchforks and lit torches” mentality when it comes to disagreeing with people online.
Granted, there are some cases where an onslaught of rage-filled tweets seems justified. When someone makes a racist, homophobic or sexist comment, it is easy to fire back a tweet about how stupid they are. What is being lost here is debate - we should be questioning people about their views, asking them why they are bigoted, and getting them to explain their rationale. Then and only then is there a chance to change people’s minds. I am not saying you should have to listen to trolls, by all means, block them or mute them. I just believe that we are becoming too polarised online.
There is a phenomenon called the “filter bubble” which has emerged as a result of online media. We are recommended stories we might like, people we may know, leading us to read posts, articles and stories which contain views and ideas we already believe to be true. This consolidates our beliefs as the gospel truth. When we see something different to our own opinions, we are shocked and angry. It is very hard to stay open-minded when Facebook’s algorithm refuses to show us articles that are contrary to our beliefs.
Mob mentality has definitely ruined the internet for me. Every single news article I click onto, there is a heated debate in the comments section, people resorting to slurs and bashing others for how they look. However, I think it is an unavoidable feature of social media.
Anyone can hide behind a twitter handle and go on a power trip. Jon Ronson, a British journalist, has written a book about online public shaming and mob mentality - “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”. He interviews people who have lost their jobs and friends over a misconstrued tweet and examines the history behind public shaming.
For me, mob mentality online exists in three forms: in politics, in trolling, and in fandoms. Mob mentality when it comes to politics has always been present, but is perhaps exacerbated on social media. Every time I click into a news article, there is a tirade of abuse against “liberals” (a word which has lost all meaning online) or right-wing people in the Facebook comments. They fight their ideological battles through a series of short comments posted on a website designed to bring people together. Political debate is lost - just the other day, I saw a comment saying “if people aren’t calling you racist, you aren’t arguing your point hard enough”. Or maybe you are just plain racist? Group thinking online leads to people believing their ideas and opinions are fact, and not just what they think.
Trolling is another story all together. I think trolling is a form of mob mentality because one troll can quickly gather support from other troll accounts. Many celebrities have had to quit Twitter due to mean comments and attacks by trolls, most recently Ed Sheeran. The trolls have one true purpose - they aim to attack and cause hurt. They hurl mindless abuse at those they don’t agree with. What makes a person a troll; however, is an interesting journey. Many journalists have confronted their trolls face-to-face and asked them why they abused them. Many were bored, alone and wanted to feel some power. Some were jealous of the person they were trolling. Nonetheless, trolling is a legitimate pastime for some people and since trolls often arrive in groups, I believe it is one of the most insidious manifestations of mob mentality online.
Then there are the fandoms. Back in the good old days I was in numerous fandoms and it was great fun discussing theories online about your favourite band and your most watched TV show. But fandoms can have a dark side. There are the so called “fandom wars” where members of each fandom would bash each other’s idols and favourite characters (I am still trying to forget the “ship wars” of Superwholock on Tumblr). Fans of music artists can also be incredibly defensive of their idols, with fans attacking the looks and personality of an individual who dares to criticise their queen or king. Fandoms represent yet another aspect of mob mentality that pervades the internet.
Is there any way for mob mentality to be stopped? I highly doubt it, as it seems to be a part of humanity. There isn’t much difference between the Salem Witch Trials and doxing someone online. Winning an argument against a random stranger in the comments, exposing them for the fool that you think they are - how is it any different to throwing rotten tomatoes at them while they’re in the stocks? We need to take a good look at ourselves and realise that mob mentality online is regressive, and try to take some steps to prevent.