Avoiding the Bandwagon
How does mob mentality impact an individual’s ability to evaluate, curate, and interact with content shared on social media?
Mob/herd mentality describes how people are influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors, follow trends, and/or purchase specific items. The desire to join in on this group or, at the very least, be recognized by the group, is an example of conformity. (Holm, 2018)
One of the challenges of a knowledge-based society is being able to evaluate and curate sources of information. In online spaces where information is shared, this can become even more difficult for a variety of reasons, but in this post I just want to focus on one of those aspects.
The Challenges of Mob Mentality
Information can spread rapidly online because we have social media. In my own experience being at work during a lockdown event, my colleagues and I relied on social media to keep us “in the know.” It was and still is faster than the news, because students who were in the building affected could quickly share what they were experiencing. Even though this was the best way to know what was happening, there was also misinformation and so in the end, it was the journalists and news media who sifted through information, evaluated and checked resources, who had the most “right” information about the situation. I think this example shows the balance that we have between using social media for sharing and spreading important information, but also in critical moments, how important it is to be as accurate as possible.
Another aspect or challenge of the mob mentality, is that we have the ability to make quick decisions and snap judgements, it’s the way our brain is wired for that fight or flight response. But this also means that without careful consideration and reflection when we can allow ourselves time to think about what we’re doing, we may respond differently or see things in a different light.
According to Diddams, 2021, Psychologists have identified over a hundred of these biases that infiltrate our beliefs, our sense of self, and our sense of belonging. Some of these biases are confirmation bias, selective scrutiny, proportionality bias, repetition effect, self-enhancement bias, and ingroup-outgroup bias.
These are the definitions Diddams uses in her article:
- Confirmation bias: When we want to believe something or someone, we are motivated to find ways to confirm our belief, but when we don’t want to believe something, we easily discount it, even with the flimsiest of evidence. This leads to. . .
- Selective scrutiny: We don’t deeply analyze conclusions that align with what we already believe but are much more critical in thinking through evidence with which we disagree.
- Proportionality bias: We tend to believe that big events require a big explanation. It’s difficult to believe that two million people around the globe could have died from the interaction between a human and a bat. Disproportionality makes it easier for some people to believe in global conspiracies or hoaxes.
- Repetition effect: We tend to remember information that is repeated often and prefer familiar notions to that which is novel.
- Self-enhancement bias: Because we are naturally motivated to increase our feelings of self-worth, we tend to describe ourselves in positive terms that are usually higher than warranted. We seek out and join groups that make us feel wanted, special, and good about ourselves.
- Ingroup-outgroup bias: We tend to be more favorable and forgiving toward those with whom we identify, since such favorability also reflects well on us. We tend to emphasize negative aspects of an outgroup in order to strengthen our sense of superiority and are more likely to use stereotypes to describe the beliefs and motives of outsiders.
How to Avoid Mob Mentality Online
Croteau writes that “When people have formed an opinion about something, it can be very hard for them to change their minds. Our own personal biases, feelings and even life circumstances can have a major impact on how we process information.”
She also goes on to provide some tips for things we can do ourselves to make changes. “We can’t force anyone to change, but we can change ourselves. Considering what we’ve already discussed, here are some things you can do right now to keep mob mentality in check:
- Take your time and think through your responses before commenting, tweeting or texting. Don’t reply if you’re feeling pressured, stressed or disconnected.
- Do your research before forming an opinion and be open to additional information that comes your way.
- Get comfortable with standing out, even if that means standing alone. Think of Kitty Genovese. Your courage could save a life.
- Stop ignoring bullies. As Luna Lovegood said to Harry Potter, our enemies want us “to feel cut off from everyone else, because if it’s just you alone, you’re not much of a threat.”
This for me reinforces what Diddams wrote in her article, that we need to interrogate our biases to “re-remember in a new way” and that we become more successful in dealing with biased beliefs when our “us” becomes more expansive. So I would add to the list of bullet points above or expand on the second to say that we need to be intentional, not just open to additional information and alternative viewpoints. It’s important for us to not be clouded by what the majority online is saying because sometimes, that information isn’t true.
Incorporating this into the classroom
So how do you bring this into the classroom? One of the challenges for me is that I don’t teach in a traditional classroom, so I think there are probably many other qualified people who could also provide input into this conversation. Regardless, I think any time there is an opportunity for students to connect their values with their online behavior, that will be impactful, for me as a current grad student, that was the case and at work too.
Going back to my Digital Learning Mission Statement, the three I selected were integrity, equity, and care. By taking the time to identify these, I could reflect on my work and where I saw these values in my day to day life and interactions with others. Now that I am more aware of them, it’s led me to be more intentional in how I make decisions, think about my work, the interactions I have with others, and what I believe when I see information online. I think this is one powerful way that we can change ourselves and as Diddams wrote, “each of us must reckon with how our biases and existing social networks have shaped our thoughts, actions, and inactions if we are to be serious about engaging in reconciliation and unity.”
Croteau, J. (2019). Social media and the mob mentality: How we can fight it. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeannecroteau/2019/02/01/our-society-is-broken-lets-fix-it/?sh=13f5b023704b
Diddams, M. (2021). The rationality of irrationality. https://christianscholars.com/the-rationality-of-irrationality/
Holm, L. (2018). Bullying, social psychology, and mob mentality. https://owlcation.com/social-sciences/Kim-Social-Psychology-and-Mob-Mentality