Mob Mentality

It’s been a crazy day.  A simple link leading to a knock-down, drag-out war popped up everywhere I turned today.

A self-pubbed author received a mildly bad review and majorly blew it out of proportion.  It was simultaneously hideous and humorous.  Yet after seeing the same fight replayed over and over again got to be wearing. 

Even more troubling were the reactions of the readers and commentors to the numerous blog posts, tweets and forum threads.  In no time at all, people hopped on the attack wagon themselves. 

Exhausting to say the least.

Then a writer friend of mine PMed me about the psychology of critiques in a thread.  And I paraphrase: Doesn’t it seem like the tone of the first comment sets the outcome for all comments that follow?

Absolutely.  100%.  Without a doubt.

Yes, yes and yes.  People feel empowered when they have the seeming support of others.  We forget to think for ourselves and let the ideas and opinions of others influence how we react.  Especially if we were wishy-washy to begin with.

People used to get hanged by mobs.  Innocent people had nooses slipped around their necks and the rumps of horses slapped out from under them simply because the mob mentality is so strong.  Going against the grain of popular opinion can almost be a death sentence in and of itself.  So bystanders either shut their mouths and allow atrocities to occur around them, or they jump on the back of the mob and shout their support regardless of how right or wrong a situation is.

We see this in schools, at parks, during rallies and on the internet.  Everywhere a group of people meets and intermingles, the potential for us to lose our independence and fall in favor of the mob is there.

Have you ever been a part of mobbing?  Wrote about it?  Read it?  What is an effective way to curb this behavior, if any?  If not, how can we protect ourselves from getting sucked into this very explosive game?

What does this mentality mean to you as a writer and the way you handle yourself in the public view?

14 responses to “Mob Mentality

  1. Avoid anonymity.

    Remember that when it’s written down, it’s forever.

    A cagey old politician here was know for this advice:

    Never speak when you can nod. Never nod when you can wink.

    FWIW, there is some truth in the idea that whozis got exactly what she had coming, and it is a good object lesson for the self-publishing community at large. Survival of the fittest and all that. Telling the world to f*** off – twice! – will never serve you well.

    Big Al might have cut off his comments sooner, but by then it was too late.

    • Pete,

      Yes. Definitely. But that is what I found so interesting about the vast majority of the comments. Many of them were anonymous.

      When I was a kid, I distinctly remember talking to my sister about my uncle’s sister. I thought we were alone and I said I didn’t like her very much. Can’t even remember the reason why. What I do remember is the very hard lesson I learned. My aunt rounded the corner and rounded on me.

      Lesson: if you can’t say it to their face, it should never be said.

      And as I get older, I realize the second half to that. If you must hide authorship of a comment (verbal or otherwise), you have no business putting it out there.


      This is what makes the internet so vicious. We can put our not-very-nice comments out into cyberspace without taking authorship over them.

  2. Most of reviews have been OK, but I don’t worry too much about it. I figure my Mama and my wife and children love me, so everything else in life is gravy on the biscuit.

    Dr. B, author, “The Mandolin Case”

    • LOL, Dr. B.

      Do we get families so we can have unconditional love and support or do we get unconditional support and love because we have families?

      I agree with your philosophy on reviews. Take them with a grain of salt and move. Never engage, as it gets us nowhere except where we don’t want to be.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. I will definitely check out your blog and book when I get the chance.

  3. Being related to one of the only people to have been lynched in Ohio (way back when, of course) I have to say mob mentality is an alarming social concept. He was an axe murderer though, and kind of deserved it….

    In any case – I try not to review anything I don’t have something positive to say about. There’s enough negativity in the world without my contribution.

    • BBC, you are a consummate professional.

      I’m like you, there is enough negativity in the world, why share mine? Besides, there is almost always a redeeming quality in everything. And if not, then why bother discussing it…except of course to our pillows or significant others. They make good sounding boards and rarely pass along the things we say in private.

      Though I did find my throw pillow on my youngest son’s bed the other day. Do you suppose it was spilling secrets?

  4. After a post I read that linked to that now “infamous” thread, I clicked over to see what all the furor was about.

    And you’re so right that the first comments seemed to set the tone. I also thought that the frenzy heated up even more because of the “anonymous” poster, who seemed to think that anything goes. And the supposed anonymity seemed to enhance the “author’s” fury, too.

    I think that it behooves each of us to be very careful what we write down in comments.

    The whole issue is one that we should think about before reacting in such a public forum.

    • Oops, lost my comment.

      Regardless, you picked up on my concern. The anonymity of the commenters was what fueled the fire. I think things would have toned down if they had been forced to link their names and faces.

  5. Wow, I just got around to actually reading the posts in question. I guess the review isn’t so much the story as the comments section. Goodness.

  6. I saw that all over twitter on Monday, and you’re right about it being like a mob. I felt sorry for the author. Even though her reaction was bad, so were everyone else’s comments. It was embarrassing for everyone who took part in that thread.

    I don’t think I’ve been part of a mob mentality! I’m an observer. I’m not easily influenced by others thoughts and actions. I like to sit back and watch things and form my own thoughts about what’s happening before speaking up. And sometimes I conclude it’s best to remain silent! Just because we have freedom of speech doesn’t mean we always have to voice our opinions.

    • Laura,

      We could learn a lot from you and your observation techniques. Thanks so much for sharing.

      And you are right, by the end, I felt bad for the author. Did she over-react in a terrible way? Absolutely. Her behavior was inescusable. But then again, so was that of the commentors. In particular the anonymous ones.

  7. I’m glad I missed all the fuss! I get SO uncomfortable with these kinds of things. Mob mentality is frightening. I’ve been discussing this with my students lately because of different issues in the news and in the schoolyard. I tend to walk away.

    • And again, I say that your students are some of the luckiest in the world.

      Mobs on the playground can be the most terrifying of all…and it starts so young.

      Don’t worry, you didn’t miss a thing.

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