Anonymity, Speed of Communication, and the Power of the Hive Mind

The power of the hive mind.

It is the speed of communication on the Internet—not just the anonymity—that makes it such a dangerous place. Rumors that would have taken weeks to reach the public consciousness in the pre-Internet age can rouse the Twitchfork-wielding rabble in an instant.

There’s a quote attributed to psychology pioneer William James that voices the principle at work here: “there’s nothing so absurd that if you repeat it often enough, people will believe it.”

That kind of mass-repetition can now happen on social media in a matter of minutes.

I’ve observed that once people have repeated a lie—especially an outrageous one—they become invested in it. It becomes part of their identity. Members of a “hive” that has perpetrated a falsehood or misinterpretation of facts feel a narcissistic compulsion to keep repeating it—to “prove” their own righteousness.

The same thing is true when someone commits an act of verbal cruelty, the way so many Twitterers did this week to a bestselling author. Once an individual joins in an attack on a designated victim, s/he becomes assimilated into the collective hive mind and seems to lose the ability to behave as an individual.

These real-life cyber-bully’s mimic Sci-Fi cyborgs like Star Trek’s The Borg, or Dr. Who’s Daleks and Cybermen.

This means that trying to reason with an individual member of the hive is useless. Otherwise sane people will display a complete lack of empathy—behavior that’s usually seen only in a true sociopath.

It’s as if people are saying: “I’m not really a sociopath, but I play one on Twitter.”

Steve Muto - Kelly Muto - Big Kahuna Bully Identity
@BigKahunaBully (Steve and Kelly Muto Playing Anonymous Sociopath on Twitter)

Thing is, social media is real life. Your victims are real people. You are inflicting real pain.

People who say, “this isn’t bullying because the target is successful, naïve, liberal, conservative, religious, atheist, feminist, anti-feminist, made a typo, got a fact wrong, used irony, wrote in a genre I disapprove of…and the old faithful, ‘Mo-o-o-m, she started it!'” need to grow up.

There is no excuse for doing evil stuff. Stop it.

Of course the hive mind does not always do evil. As Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”

But it needs a corollary: “Never doubt that a small group of misguided citizens can devolve into a mindless, bloodthirsty mob.”

Angry Mobs are High on their Own Rage

When you become part of the hive mind, you become as unreasoning as a swarm of bees.

Steve Muto Bully Hive Mentality - Drunk Bees

Drunk bees.

Angry people actually get high on their own rage. Anger management specialists tell us that self-righteous rage can trigger brain chemicals that mimic the high of cocaine. And it’s just as addictive.

A hive mind drunk on anger is unable to think or learn. It is intolerant of any divergence from the hive’s orthodoxy and outraged by humor, whimsy, irony, or fantasy.

All non-literal speech goes over its buzzy little head.

In fact, the hive mind often feels the need to thwart artistic expression of any kind, as we can see with the religious-fanatic hive destroying ancient art in the Middle East.

The dangers of the hive mind are not unique to the Internet age, of course. Humans have been whipped into cruel frenzies by stupid ideas ever since Zog convinced the tribe that throwing Gog into the smoking volcano would keep it from erupting.

Euripides explored the phenomenon in 405 BC when he wrote the Bacchae —in which a band of women, under the spell of an angry Dionysis, rip their king to pieces with their bare hands, thinking he’s a wild beast.

Wily politicians have always known how to use mob behavior to their advantage. Designating a scapegoat/enemy and lying to the masses about the danger they pose is the power-play of choice for most tyrannical regimes.

So it is for Steve and Kelly Muto.

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