Mob Mentality: Analysis and Prevention

We like to think of ourselves as beings who can think for ourselves and stand our own ground. But what happens when we are surrounded by others who are doing something and expecting us to act accordingly? The mob mentality kicks in! That is not to say that as “followers” we lose our sense of self and can’t be held accountable. On the contrary, there are ways we can avoid being violent and destructive.

Script of the Video:

Mob mentality. What the hell is that? Al Capone complex? No, it’s a little more complicated than that, even though both mob mentality and Al Capone complex are violent and destructive.

Just recently I experienced first hand the social media mob rush to crucify me for something I had not done. Even people who were on my “friend” list all of a sudden had become Al Capones too. I couldn’t help but want to analyze studies on mob mentality and figure out why some people shoot first and ask later, especially when it comes to social media.

Dr Kristian Gleditsch from the University of Essex has compared the common patterns of riots to wildfires. And we can totally use this analogy to analyze social media mob. He says,  “There’s some evidence suggesting that… the severity of riots is inversely proportional to their frequency. It’s kind of like a forest fire. Most fires go out very quickly, but a few become catastrophic. Once they reach a certain magnitude, they can become self-sustaining and very hard to contain.”

And that’s exactly what happened. The incident turned into one accusation about one thing and all of a sudden it blew up to 100 different things. And I sat there for a while, staring at people who knew me liking and saying hate-filled comments. Why is that? Option one is, some people are just assholes, right? That’s for sure. But the other option is that some people have a clear destructive intent and an ability to make that intent spread like wildfire.

The “leaders” that intensify the accusations, gossips, whatever it is, have a very, very clear objective in mind and that is to destroy the person by being the firestarter – they are not looking to help in any manner. And then of course, many follow. When you’re in a crowd or group setting some people will do anything to seek approval, to feel like they fit in, even if that includes hating something you don’t even know about. Let’s be honest, how many times have you “liked” something without reading? Or shared something without taking a look at it just because your newsfeed shows everyone is doing it…? Right. Thought so.

Some psychologists argue that the crowd mentality makes people lose their sense of self – that is called deindividuation. I completely reject that theory, and I side with psychologists like Russell Spears who say “such models depend upon an individualistic conception of the self, viewed as a unitary construct referring to that which makes individuals unique.“ Translating this to my world: when people engage in mob mentality, without checking facts, waiting for more information to arise, it is nothing but a narcissistic attempt to fit in, and it is a selfish act masked in the false idea of “standing in solidarity,” when in fact, all they seek is to feel good about themselves.  

And I clearly saw that happening to me. People pretending to be outraged by the event, only to push their own agenda, taking advantage of chaos to add more lies, which would be easily believed in that state.

For those “leaders” I honestly don’t even want to waste my time with you because you’re in for the thrill not for the facts. But everyone else that follows, I’d like a word with you.

You have to take responsibility for your violent actions. No, it wasn’t just the heat of the moment. No, it wasn’t because you wanted to be a good ally. Let’s eliminate those excuses. You made a mistake, you jumped in too quickly trying to fit in and seek for approval while helping the other person drown.

So what can you do to avoid acting like mobster again? Funny enough, I just recently got my learner’s permit, hooray! And I learned something really, really interesting about road rage. According to Ellison-Potter road rage could be encouraged by the fact that drives feel secure by being surrounded by a locked metal box. So secure that they think that they can become anonymous. Drivers were seven times more likely to hit pedestrians in the virtual world when they had a sense of anonymity. And drivers in cars with tinted windows can be even more dangerous. On the other hand, drivers with convertible cars drove less aggressively. According to the theory, because they were more exposed, they had more contact with the victim and the victim with the perpetrator.

And that makes complete sense when we bring that study into our computer. It’s extremely easy to forget there’s a human being behind the screen – someone with feelings, someone who could have committed a genuine mistake. And it’s easy to hide behind the monitor.

A practical advice to the person being accused and the person accusing.

1-) Reach out to the party before posting anything public. A public rant or what may seem a meaningless status update can generate more damage than good – especially when there was no chance given to the other party to speak.

2-) Always, always make a video call. I firmly believe that most conflicts could be avoided if people simply talked. A video call will ensure that both parties remember that they are people. With facial expressions, gestures, tones. Not just a line of paragraphs on social media. In fact, that’s the first thing we advise on our conflict resolution model.

3-) Turn something ugly into something beautiful. Think of ways to mend the situation where both parties learn and move forward amicably.

The people watching the situation unfold:

1-) Don’t have anything constructive to say? Then shut up. If you are not going to offer solutions but rather just add to the pile of hatred then stay out of it. I remember when I first became an activist I usually would share cases of nonhuman animal violence and instead of elaborating on why that was wrong or do a call to action to try and fix it I would say things like “I hope this piece of garbage dies.” – You see, how that’s empty, repulsive and childish? Yeah. Don’t be that person.

2-) Check facts. Did you actually see screenshots of the conversation or you’re just believing everything that’s being paraphrased? Yeah. Very different things.

3-) Are you a drama magnet or you’re in because you care? People love drama, conflict, seeing people get hurt. You have to ask yourself what’s your role in all this? Are you just in cause it’s fun or do you genuinely want to help? If you want to help, follow step 1 through 3.

Links to Studies:
Science of Rioting
Russell Spears
Riots as mindless
‘Like’ This Article Online? Your Friends Will Probably Approve, Too
Tinted Windows, Road Rage