I used to think the internet was a vehicle for self expression and personal enlightenment. Nowadays I'm concerned that it is becoming a conduit for 'group think'. What I mean by that is people appear to be acting not upon their own will but rather the will of others. I like to avoid being part of large groups of people. There's something about being in a herd of people that seems to mess with my mind a bit. I feel compelled to do things which I would not ordinarily do. For example, 'booing' someone. I'd never do that in a one to one situation but I'm sure that, as part of a crowd, I will have done in the past. Or chanted slogans which upon closer inspection make no sense whatsoever. Such as: "one, two, three, four, we don't want your racist war". I remember chanting that once on some anti-Iraq war protest and, upon closer inspection thinking, "but it's not a racist war". I was just caught up in the moment, it was exciting. I'd been infected with group think.
I remember me and a mate watching some of the Rugby chaps out drinking in the SU bar some years back. They were singing songs and shouting and behaving like idiots. Pulling their pants down and so forth. "Who are ya, who are ya, who are ya, Ingerland, Ingerland, Ingerland" etc. My mate pointed out that if they were on their own none of them would be acting even half as badly as they do when in a group.
Big groups of people who believe themselves to be united by some sort of common cause are breeding grounds for trouble because 'group think' appears to reduce the intelligence of everyone there to something approximate to the lowest of the herd. Why this happens I don't know. Perhaps it's the perception of anonymity, safety in numbers, morphic resonance, the pathetic desire to fit in, the conviction that if so many other people act/think this way they can't all be wrong or all of these factors combined. What I do know is it's scary and one of the reasons I like to avoid large crowds such as those mentioned above.
The internet seems to give people a chance to access this 'group think' level of intellect without even having to leave their house.
The "sack Kay Burley" campaign on twitter triggered this entry but these thoughts have been formulating in my mind for some time now. If you have a life you'll be unaware that recently Sky news presenter, Kay Burley, has become something of a hate figure for a perceived group of right-on twitter users. So much so that the topic "sack Kay Burley" recently trended on the social networking site. My reply attracted some indignant and self-righteous tweets, which surprised me as it was, I thought, quite reasonable:
"The 'sack Kay Burley' trending topic is the most depressing one I've ever looked into. Twitter is becoming a tool of hate mobs."
From what I can make out Kay Burley's hideous crime was aggressively asking questions of some bloke who seemed to think meaningless right on answers were the best way to deal with a media appearance: "we voted with hope for a better future...". Nothing wrong with a journalist trying to get past fluffy answers, in fact I think it's to be encouraged. It turns out that the group he represented was one that specialises in internet campaigns. Hence the twitter trend.
"Fair votes now" and "Unlock democracy" sound great but don't actually mean anything. Holding it on a placard with a look of religious ecstasy might be fun but it's still without meaning. It's akin to the rugby lads getting drunk and me chanting that I don't want a racist war. As is writing "sack kay burley" over and over again in order to make it trend on twitter.
The interview which caused 'so much' moral indignation. Note the comments section to get more of an idea of 'group think' in full flow.