Groupthink, Herd Mentality & Keyboard Warriors

Groupthink, Herd Mentality & Keyboard Warriors

Have you ever read a post online that has evoked a certain response, but held back on sharing it when you read the comments and see your opinion is in the minority? Have you ever found it strange, on reading responses to a certain topic, that so many people seem to share the same point of view – particularly when it clashes so strongly with your own?

Or, perhaps you have been the brave one to stick their neck out and say, “Actually, this is what I think…” – even when it goes against the general consensus? If you have done this (or seen someone else do it), have you ever then noticed that the tide may turn and subsequent responses may be more likely to diverge from the former line of reasoning?

There are various terms to explain this. Groupthink, mob mentality, herd mentality, tribalism to name a few. Most of us are aware of these, and I suspect that most of us think we are above falling into this trap. But how can that be, if by definition the majority get sucked into following the crowd?

Last night, thanks to a bout of insomnia, I was scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed at about 2am and found a thread in a group that had been started by a woman complaining that her groceries delivery was running an hour late, that it is unacceptable, and asking for opinions on how the store should compensate her.

Before I read any comments, my initial response was to think the woman was overreacting a little, but then to put myself in her shoes and imagine I might also be feeling irate if, say, I had important plans that needed rescheduling on the back of it, and that the store should offer an apology and perhaps even a small goodwill voucher.

Then I did read the comments, and saw that the overwhelming sentiment was that she should not expect anything from the store, and – moving further down – a rising backlash against the OP for being symptomatic of “all that’s wrong with the world”. The tirade even devolved into personal insults in a number of instances.

Rather than being above it, at first I got sucked in. Not to the extent where I felt like criticising or hurting the woman, but I certainly found my views evolving in line with groupthink, to the point where I was rolling my eyes at the OP’s participation in “blame culture” and nodding in agreement with many commenters in their unusual sympathy for the store in question. I was too tired to weigh into the debate, but I felt differently by the end of it than I did at the beginning.

This morning, I evaluated my response, and the response of others. I realised that in a different set of circumstances, it might have just as easily been the supermarket who copped the tirade, depending on which group leaders got their views in first.

On reflection, I have no strong opinion either way on the original subject. I can see the OP’s points of view; I can see the alternative point of view. What did strike me, though, is how easily a group of people can turn against an individual, suspend empathy for their possible scenario in favour of empathy for a different party or cause, and turn into keyboard warriors who are out to inflict embarrassment or hurt on a fellow human because it’s what the crowd are doing.

A few people had since plucked up the courage to point out that the hundreds of critical comments were a disproportionate reaction to the original post, and the thread went quiet, but by this point it appears that the OP had left the group to which she belonged.

I don’t think any of us are above herd mentality – it is part of normal human psychology and a very easy trap to fall into. But, as sentient beings with the capacity to think critically, perhaps we can also make more effort to speak out against the crowd, when it’s right.

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