Monday, March 31, 2014

Groupthink and the Internet's ability to de-individuate

This article from South University in Savannah is an interview with Tamara Avant, the school's Director of the Psychology Program, about groupthink and how it happens/what encourages it. She talks about mostly all of the basics that we discussed in class. She brings up "de-individuation" and how larger groups where your identity is hidden, or even "masked" will encourage violence since responsiblity on the individual is reduced. She also brings up several other factors that may encourage violence through groupthink, such as:
-group size
-physical anonymity
-situational needs (she mentions scarce resources after Hurrican Katrina, and how that encouraged people to mob up and loot because of their necessities)
-gangs and those targeted to join: typically antisocial teens
-being surrounded by "like-minded" people

She gives a very well presented, basic understanding of what it is and how it works.
What her words got me thinking about was that the internet does most of these things automatically. It is a powerful hub for "antisocial" people to express themselves. Youtube videos of people singing in showers, daily blogs about getting beat up in school that are then published online, 14 year old girls singing an acoustic song at her desk. All of these things would never have happened when I was a kid, not in real life at least. These acts take courage to share, and now it takes less. The internet has a way of creating a new type of identity that can be manipulated, deleted, shaped. Online, people are cruel and critical, because they aren't held responsible, "Buttman876" is. Buttman876 is a huge dick, but nobody knows him. This is a powerful form of de-individuation that has already become a powerfully emotionally violent tool in our society. Cyber-bullying is a snowball effect. One vicious comment by an unknown user can open the flood gates. Next thing you know, 50 come rolling in, followed by 5,000.
This is not uncommon. There have been many reported cases of young teens dropping out of schools or even killing themselves due to reactions from cyber-bullying.
I don't see this issue so much as a "groupthink" problem. The issue itself seems to be more associated with the act of online anonymity. Tamara Avant explains that "physical anonymity" can play a powerful role in turning a group into a mob. This goes for the internet as well, only the group is the entire internet. Luckily, the web is too large and uncontrollable a platform for one aspect of human psychology to dominate over the rest. These harsh words are just as easily made as they are dismissed.
You can block users, or navigate away from the harmful page within 2 seconds, at the comfort of your desk. But what remains is that ability to mask yourself. The ability to de-individuate without the presence of others around you. Without that peer pressure...
That is what I find a little worrying. If that idea of personal de-individuation continues, then it is entirely possible that people begin to feel a lack of responsibility for their actions, both on and off the web. If you act one way online, then who's to say that after so many years of behaving as such, that attitude wouldn't reflect back into your "real world" social interactions or actions.

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