Tuesday Talk*: Is Virtual Mobbing A Thing?

Back when the practical blawgosphere took Joseph Rakofsky to task, a charge was leveled that he was the victim of “internet mobbing,” the mob consisting of lawyers who piled on to ridicule and abuse him for being worthy of ridicule and abuse. Was that what was happening? Were we, lawyers ripping a kid to shreds, just a mob?

At the time, the accusation seemed ludicrous. His conduct was facially reprehensible on many levels, and the fact that a few dozen blawging lawyers all reached the same conclusion, and thought it proper to condemn him for it, was hardly surprising. No doubt it felt to him like a mob, but then, how else would being universally condemned by others in one’s profession feel?

The question recently arose again on the twitters, since cries of mobbing have become somewhat ubiquitous as tribal condemnation of the hour’s latest word that cannot be uttered or idea that’s definitely hurtful came under scrutiny by a few million of your closest friends. This time, it was broken down into two questions, the first being whether there can be such a thing as a “virtual mob” at all, as opposed to a physical mob. The second is how one distinguishes a mob from a million independently sentient voices all reaching the same conclusion simultaneously.

Having used the word “mob” with some regularity here, to characterize the swarm of SJWs whipped into a frenzy to attack anyone who fails to respect the victim hierarchy or, dare I say it, wears a culturally-appropriated hairstyle, have I been unfair? Unprincipled? Even hypocritical?

It’s unclear to me why the concept of a mob should be limited to physical reality, as the same influences that drive the townsfolk to grab their torches and pitchforks and march on the castle exist in the virtual domain. Sure, you can always turn off Facebook or Twitter and the mob disappears, whereas in real life they will just beat you to death, but does that difference make them any less a mob?

The harder question is what distinguishes a mob from a group of people who reach an individualized, independent conclusion to speak out about a particular thing they deem worthy of condemnation. There are sometimes leaders, reaching a conclusion, and followers who, well, follow. Then again, there are always the knee-jerk outrage seekers, who see a word they’ve been trained to recognize as inherently problematic and react as they’ve been trained to do, without any actual thought process involved.

How do we know which is which? How do we know who is legitimately concerned, if not outraged, and who just mouths the words of outrage because that’s all they know how to do, as far as their unduly passionate feelings can take them.

I suspect that if one queried each individual member of the mob, each would claim to have come to their position based on their personal critical scrutiny of whatever wrong was at issue. People are rarely inclined to admit to being mindless lemmings for the cause, although it has become less of a bad thing to pile on when someone higher on the victim hierarchy calls for comfort upon pain of being complicit in the outrage. Can they be doubted when they say they’re not merely following orders, but acting as free agents?

If there are mobs roaming the internet, attacking words, ideas, people with whom they disagree, then it reflects a different problem than a million people who independently reach the conclusion that something is wrong. After all, each of the million is just as entitled to their opinion as any other. But if it’s a mindless mob, contributing nothing more than heft to the cause for no better reason that to inflict harm on the other tribe, then it’s a problem. Which is it?

*Tuesday Talk rules apply. No ammunition discussions. Anyone posting a video of Muskrat Love will be banned.

23 thoughts on “Tuesday Talk*: Is Virtual Mobbing A Thing?

      1. the other rob

        Isn’t an “Ariana” the largest size available at Starbuck’s, in Cockney Rhyming Slang?

  1. neoteny

    Which is it?

    It’s a continuum: we’re all mindless sheep to some extent, just the same way as we’re all sovereign individuals with a mind of our own.

    Of course it matters greatly where one resides on this continuum (and into which direction one moves). A particular position (or a range of positions) was studied by Eric Hoffer; he published his results in The True Believer.

  2. Raccoon Strait

    Definition: Virtual Mobber, one who is comfortable joining others in condemning others still for reasons esoteric and without substance, but with an excess of exuberance, while wearing their PJ’s.

    Definition: Virtual Mobbee, one who allows their passion to unduly influence cognitive thought when confronted with 2 or more opposing opinions that do not comport with their sensibilities, and reacts with an excess of exuberance, while wearing PJ’s.

    Confluence: Wearing PJ’s while using the Internets to communicate with a million or more of your closest friends presents danger that is directly related to the sheerness of your PJ’s.

  3. Guitardave

    By their fruits ye shall know them.
    Example; In Twit-speak…” I’m here for the ‘ratio’. ”

    PS: Thanks for the song Twit, Scott. My appreciation goes beyond my ability to describe it. Thank you.

      1. Howl

        I’ll second that. It’s good that there are still those who need no more than a guitar and pick. Thanks, Guitardave.

  4. Bruce Coulson

    A mob implies a group of people who mindlessly follow something, be it smashing into a store or tearing down a person. Reasoned discourse is a group of people who all agree on the basics of a topic. And it is difficult to tell which is which when there’s no physical meeting of the group. I would say that when people join in to a topic, without any actual reasons (except the basic ‘I support A; A hates B; therefore, I hate B’) you have a virtual mob. But determining whether a group is a virtual mob or a band of concerned, reasoned citizens would take a lot more time and research than the targets have.

  5. B. McLeod

    Unfortunately, turning off the computer does not always make the outrage mobs go away. When one or more members of the mob conclude that their quarry is just too unwokey to be employed, attend an educational institution, run a business or to have a place to live, they will often expand their obsessive campaigns to harass anyone and everyone who fails to appropriately shun or punish the object of their displeasure.

    1. SHG Post author

      The impact of social media on real life has destroyed quite a few lives/careers already, so while the mob may be virtual, the impact may be very real.

    2. Guitardave

      I agree that the mob does have too much power, though its only inside their own bubble, which is currently WAY too large. It is possible it could be used to ones advantage…
      My current gig is about done. I have almost 0 social media presence ( with the exception of certain wonderful persons who share songs). If a ‘woke’ future employer decides to do a search on my stage name , they’ll easily find my comments here…and quickly toss my application in the round file. Then I won’t have to walk away from another stupid shit job managed by morons with their political correct heads in their asses. My lack of desire to work for the woke far exceeds the disdain they have for old assholes like myself.

  6. phv3773

    The SJW mobs are not so different from what is seen in the financial markets. The Madness of Crowds is read on Wall Streer for good reason. It will happen anytime you have lots people with imperfect communication and some sort of risk.

  7. L. Phillips

    After a long life watching people take amazingly damaging actions against one another individually and in groups, and apprehending a few of the participants along the way, I fail to see the difference between virtual and real save only the ability to visit immediate physical harm to another on the “real” side of the question. That difference is mostly a matter of time line. Have investigated suicides that were at the very least pushed toward completion by social media posts.

    To combine both of today’s posts, it seems to me that the “youngs” are on the same learning curve we “olds” went through, just in a different and less “real” forum than the school yards, university, military and civilian careers I came up in. It seems probable they will fare no better personally and dispense as much pain to others as we did regardless.

    1. SHG Post author

      But is there a meaningful difference? When you harm someone physically, you see the damage happen before your eyes. You can’t dissociate from it. Online, it lacks the personal quality of cause and effect, the hard messiness of consequences, allowing the more sociopathic aspect of our worst nature to come to the forefront without having to take actual responsibility.

      1. Keith Kaplan

        I think that lack of a feedback loop feeds into what Haddock & Polsby described as the “reputation” element in how people choose to riot as a mob.

        There have always been groups that reached individualized conclusions capable of mob like behavior (it’s not like believing there’s inequality is a concept that ever went out of style), but most of those individuals never act on those ideas to create mobs. Mobs don’t always burn down cities just because they’re capable of doing so and I think some of what has been learned about mobs can help explain why these virtual mobs are assembled and execute actions so fast.

        Mobs need a catalyst (someone needs to throw that first brick or tweet that first flaming comment). And there needs to be a calculation on your ability to join in with the mob without losing your respectability.

        If throwing in meant that employers wouldn’t look at you, schools denied your application and neighbors would clutch their pearls, you wouldn’t see as many SJW virtual-mob members running to loot the store (or tweet their insanity). But we’ve more or less moved to a space where matches are virtually endlessly available and hot-takes are forgiven / forgotten as fast as they are uttered.

        So twitter mobs have little (if any) social cost. And without those reputational costs, they will keep proliferating.

        I don’t know if there’s any turning back or if there’s anything that can be done. Just don’t tweet before you get on a plane.

      2. L. Phillips

        Not any appreciable difference that I can see. Mobs I have helped deal with – the days after the Rodney King verdict come to mind – could not care less what kind of physical harm was inflicted by them or in front of them. Same as online. Yes, they did disassociate from it. The most common refrain being, “but he/she/they/it deserved it.”

        But I am only talking about mobs. When I was dragged into an admin position kicking and screaming I expressed my displeasure with a motivational poster hung on my office wall directly above and behind my head. The picture was a dozen or so individuals around a conference table in various postures of near violent disagreement. The caption was “All of us together are dumber than any one of us alone.” Truer words were never written. My gripe was with the bloated and immovable bureaucracy of the department, but put that group in the picture on the street or the net and the results will be pretty much the same.

        Sadly, I could never find a picture of Congress in session with the same caption, and a selfish desire to preserve my retirement benefits kept me from photo-shopping in a pix of the county commission.

        1. SHG Post author

          Truer words, indeed. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been an adherent of the “risky shift” analysis and hated committees.

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