All Mobs Are Self-Selected

All mobs are self selected 12Mobs bully/attack other people3 but they do so because people have gathered strength from finding other people thinking/feeling just like they do. I think the Internet and all the social media tools4 makes it really easy to surround yourself with the echo-chamber, or a self-selected mob, and then it becomes much easier to start doing dumb things while still feeling like your ideas/actions have been vetted and approved by an unbiased crowd.

I’ll also say that the Internet and social media allow you to do the opposite. That is you can surround yourself with vastly different ideas and people from very different backgrounds that will challenge your thoughts and ideas and help keep you from doing or continuing to believe stupid/wrong things.

I think far more people do the former. It’s human nature. I try to fight it in two ways. One, I try to get lots of ideas from outside what I do. I try to broaden where my information comes from and both the kind of information and the view points on information that I’m exposed to.. Two, I try to find people who make me just a little bit mad when I read them but mad in a way that makes me think. It’s easy to find people that make you mad but who you feel are idiots. That’s an echo chamber as well, just built of different stuff.

The way information flows on the Internet often results in people reacting quickly without thinking too deeply5. That reaction spreads quickly and can result in a lot of misguided action. I’d say that Twitter can certainly spread this kind of mob think because it’s designed for speed and the space restrictions result in complex messages being over-compressed which further encourages the polarization of the reaction.

1 and mobs often do very stupid things based on emotion

2 This post was inspired by some comments at the Edupunk panel at SXSW, which while disastrous as a whole, did have some good pieces. Granted, you had to look very, very hard.

3 or burn down building etc. but we’re talking Internet “mobs” here

4 from twitter to blogs

5 There are lots of reasons for and examples of that

Comments on this post

  1. Ben said on March 17, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    What?! I’m not swallowing all your liberal hippie bull crap!

    JK, very thoughtful post you have there. Keep it coming, I need some more of this echo-chamber right now.

  2. Tom said on March 18, 2009 at 7:25 am

    Stop oppressing me!

    I do feel like a hippie lately – wandering around mumbling “Can’t we all just get along?” and “Stop oppressing me.” My other tenet, likely to be another useless philosophy post, is that we ought to be shooting for the middle of the road but getting there through cycles of extremes.

    I’m on my way to hippiedom. I just need to keep going without a haircut a while longer, and up my patchouli usage. Wish me luck.


  3. Laura said on March 18, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    The audio I listened to did not make it sound *that* bad, but of course, I didn’t see panel or audience reactions. Certainly, there was some sniping that wasn’t good, but it didn’t sound terrible overall.

    I do the same thing in terms of trying to read/listen to/watch things that are outside of my area or different from my own opinions. I think that’s the beauty of the internet. I can actually find out what people very different from myself think. And I’ve learned a lot from that. It can, of course, become the mob or the echo chamber and I try to guard against that. Sometimes we all get caught in the wave, though.

  4. Tom said on March 18, 2009 at 1:39 pm


    I’m probably colored by Jim Groom’s view of it (and about 15 post panel conversations) and partially by the thought of what it could have been. There were a lot of smart passionate people up there and it felt like they never really got to get to the point of things. There were some great comments but the panel, as a whole, seemed to be disjointed and lacking a focus due, in part, to the sniping. There was also some hostility from the crowd and between panel members. The twitter comments were pretty rough at times as well.

    It is easy to end up in a wave and probably a good thing at times- I just figure I shouldn’t live in one.

  5. Laura said on March 18, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    Ah, yes, I missed the Twitter feed. That would have told me something I’m sure. I’ve been one of the mob in a Twitter feed before and it felt terrible.

  6. Tom said on March 18, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    Yeah, twitter can turn poisonous quickly and it feeds off itself well. The whole concept of being clever/funny/sarcastic on twitter doesn’t result in very forgiving audiences.

    Right or not, Downes didn’t help audience attitude by semi-insulting twitter (and probably by proxy them) at what is a twitter fanboy conference. Then he had repeated issues with his “easy” twitter replacement.

  7. Jim said on March 18, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    Thanks for backing me up here and feeding into my echo chamber: tran Wreck is my preferred description. I knew if I wore a g-string things would go bad 🙂

  8. Tom said on March 18, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    You are your own echo chamber and you know this.

    The panel is probably more of a failure in your eyes because you saw what it might have been. You assembled an all star team. Things just didn’t go quite right for whatever reason.

    Meghan says next time have Anto hang out at our house. She and the family are always welcome. I should have thought of that but, obviously, I can be overly dense.

  9. Gardner said on March 28, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    The memory of it all makes me pretty miserable. I agree, though: there were some very good bits. They just never formed a critical mass. Nothing was likely to gel given the way things were going in the discourse.

    I wish I had it all to do over again. I’d do a bunch of it differently, myself. Can’t speak for Jim’s lingerie, though.

  10. Tom said on March 29, 2009 at 4:57 am


    It was not what it could have been- which is always disappointing. I’ve been considering chopping up the audio to highlight what I think are the good points. I’m heading to ATL today so if I get delayed on the way back by good ol’ US Air I’ll get that done.

    It’s a shame I keep meeting you but have yet to get a chance to actually talk to you. I’m sure it’ll happen someday if I keep hanging around Jim (although that also increases the chances I’ll die from second hand smoke or possibly get arrested).

    I try never, ever to think of Jim and lingerie.

  11. Gardner said on March 29, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Grabbing highlights from the audio sounds like a great idea to me.

    I too hope we have a chance to talk sometime. The postmortem at SXSW was not a good opportunity as it turned out.

    I’m going to try to blog about SXSW sometime soon–get that done, then move on.

    Thanks for the response, Tom.