Here’s a thoughtful post by Anne R Allen: “Public Shaming, Cyberbullies, and the Hive Mind: Fighting ‘Censorship by Troll'”
I personally feel that you should suspect you are wrong to join in an internet mob if:
You didn’t read a reasonable chunk of the work somebody’s being mobbed for, but took a line out of context when you saw someone tweet it.
You didn’t check out the person at all, but assumed she was a bad person because that one quote looked bad and anyway, good people don’t get mobbed.
You feel that a person deserves to be fired from their job and rendered unemployable because they disagree with you about something.
You feel justified in joining an internet mob because you are so very righteous.
You feel justified in joining an internet mob.
I think Allen is essentially correct to say:
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. . . . 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.”
Yes, a bit like the way normally polite, tolerant adult people sometimes scream insults at somebody who offends them when they’re behind the wheel of a car, only an order of magnitude worse.
I won’t say I always think a mob is wrong. Not about what they’re objecting to. But I don’t know that I ever think a mob is *justified*. You perhaps recall when Katherine Hale stalked a reviewer who gave her first book a one-star review. It was a horrifying incident. But it had *several* horrifying aspects, not just one:
1. Hale stalking the blogger = horrifying
2. The Guardian letting Hale publish this piece that looks to me like it is a first-person account of psychological disturbance contributing to illegal behavior for which Hale has to be criminally liable. The Guardian’s role in this whole situation is if anything even more horrifying than Hale’s.
3. The internet mob piling on Hale, who appears, on actually reading her piece in the Guardian, to be a disturbed individual. That is also awful.
People are sometimes going to be — gasp! — wrong on the internet. But even when they’re genuinely wrong, a mob is seldom going to improve the situation. It’s ugly. Too often it turns vicious.
Personally, my philosophy, which I haven’t always lived up to but which grows firmer every time I see a mob in action, is: if I see someone say something outrageous online, or even more if I see someone accused of saying something outrageous online, I will never regret it if I put off responding for a week.