Did your mother ever say, “If everyone else jumped off the cliff, would you jump, too?” She was trying to teach you about mob mentality and its perils. And she was trying to get you to think critically—for yourself. Of course you wouldn’t jump off a cliff if you thought about it, but many of us become lemmings in a crowd. And careless when we’re on social media, the most anonymous huge crowd there is.
At their worst, bullies indulge in rants, inciting hate in their comments. They say cruel things they would never have the nerve to say face-to-face. They foment anger and revel in their power. These bullies succeed in getting others to lose their inhibitions and join in the hate mongering. And those others act as part of a group without any feeling of responsibility for their own actions. So therefore they do things they might never do on their own. This de-individuation can cause people to behave badly.
While some comments decline into abusive and ugly spam, they can also escalate into positive posts. A single ‘like’ can have a snowball effect—people feel the need to belong, and clicking ‘like’ is a way to do it. Social belonging is an elixir that makes people check their Facebook status repeatedly to see who else likes their post. It gives them a rush of good feeling.
This positive herding isn’t new. You can see it when you’re at a concert and one person rises to his feet, clapping wildly. A few people follow and pretty soon the whole audience is on their feet. Unfortunately, the flip side of this is true, too. Mob mentality is what takes over when a child is bullied in the schoolyard as well as online. One guy taunts a kid and dares others to join in. This is a way of social belonging, too. When it happens online, it can have an enormous negative effect because there is an enormous audience. It can cause serious mental and emotional injury and can even lead to suicide.
Even though you might feel anonymous, when you express yourself on social media, it’s out there to stay. And your name is connected to your comments. This can have real consequences to you and those around you. A recent example is Harvard University revoking the admission of 10 students who sent offensive messages and graphics in a private group chat. These would-be Harvard students may have felt social pressure to belong to a group, but it’s simply no excuse for bad behavior. What you say and do is important.
Stop and Think
Before you mindlessly click ‘like’ or any other icon, remember that your good name is connected to your click. And before you add your comment to a discussion, ask yourself if your comment will add to the conversation. Ask if it brings new insight. Ask yourself if you are contributing in a positive way. Use your common sense and think critically before you jump off a cliff.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: http://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contacts.