The Psychology of the Social Media Lynch Mob

yelling_what_are_we_yelling_aboutIt seems like everyone is angry and offended these days. It does not take much to go from “normal citizen” to “America’s most despised” in just a matter of seconds thanks to our hyper-opinionated culture and constant connectedness. Have you ever wondered why everyone is always up in arms about something? About 4 years ago I listened to a podcast from Psychologist Michael Britt where he explained some of the psychology behind our incessant need to crucify those we deem guilty (listen to it here). According to Britt, it comes down to 2 things: closure and simplicity.

One of the key Gestalt principles of perception is closure. We hate NOT having closure. Simply put, when faced with a complex group of information, humans tend to seek and find what appears to be the simplest solution to a problem. Thus, instead of seeking the facts or truth, our instinct is to seek closure because well, it is easier than dealing with ugly truths. So, rather than dealing with real issues of race and division in our country, we take down a “symbol” and quickly move on with our lives. Instead of dealing with our broken systems of government, we “boycott” the latest celebrity/brand/restaurant that our Facebook friends have deemed “evil.” We declare people guilty because by nature, we do not like chaos (Britt, 2011). Rather than actually getting off of the couch and serving the disenfranchised, we click “like” and “share” and actually believe that we are making a real difference.

Why? We behave like this because it is easy. It is easy to yell. It is easy to judge. It is easy to join the mob in collective anger armed only with fragments of truth based on our perceptions of reality.  In our quest for closure we mistake the easy solution for simplicity, but at what cost?



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