Social Media Gives a Mob a “Brain” That Speeds its Impulsive Actions

In my air ambulance profession, I speak to 20 people per day who are in the midst of crisis. Perhaps their spouse is dying of cancer and they are urgently seeking treatment. Perhaps their parent has suffered a stroke and they want to return them home. In most cases, there is a side story to the tragedy that involves the family’s history. I see it playing out in most transports.

Three stereotypical daughters deal with their family crisis from different perspectives. One daughter is the executor to the will and diligently works to balance the medical needs of the patient with the needs of the surviving spouse’s financial well being. Another daughter wants to bring mom and dad home so that she can return all the love they provided her. Yet another daughter is estranged from the family and is cynical about spending anything that would lessen the value of her future estate.

The historical interactions of the family up to the crisis point can lead to a spectrum of outcomes, from loving family nurturing, to pragmatic situational ethics, even to cold calculations. Similarly to a family dealing with a medical transport crisis, the history of how each community has met its social needs prior to its crisis influences the reactions of factions in the community during the crisis and affects the potential outcomes of the crisis itself.

Americans continue to be inspired by the stories of communities coming together during great tragedies, reaching out to help each other. We are comforted that most people do not seek to prey on victims but to comfort their neighbors. People that join our industry connect with these principles of servitude. However, we also witness in our daily media individuals who have lashed out because of feelings of desperation, and we see the efforts of law enforcement to contain those that opportunistically prey on others.

Massive demonstrations such as those on the mall in Washington can be conducted peacefully and can affect national dialogue. However, in the face of emotional catalysts like a police shooting or a even significant piece of social legislation such as austerity measures, demonstrations can impulsively well up. In the midst of demonstrations, citizens with differing histories, some having felt hopelessly oppressed by their community, can turn to mobbery as an expression and an outlet for their fears and angers.

Looting has a core element of anger for some as well. We saw in New Orleans, in a city with a history of socioeconomic disaffected communities, that even when political actions miscommunicated and mishandled emergency response, most victims continued to do what they could to help rescue their families and neighbors. However, the reaction of many erupted into survivalist looting for food and water. Others righteously rationalized their opportunistic looting for electronics. Some even reacted by violently attacking would be rescuers and by shooting at rescue helicopters and boats.

A new wave of mobbery and looting has already been demonstrated in multiple cities in America including Milwaukee and now Philadelphia, its mayor reacting by implementing citywide curfews. Social media has added the element of a collective mob brain. It caught England off guard with its quick execution and retreat of hundreds of participants. Its evolution is a “logical” next step for electronically assisted, virtually assimilated, pseudo gang communication.

Just as social media brought thousands of young people together to demonstrate in North Africa who before sat in isolation without a collective voice, it can now bring hundreds of our youth together who beforehand sat in quiet desperation of their socioeconomically diminished futures. A proactive engaging for better youth outlets and of preparing for spontaneous social media driven violent reactions is now warranted based on worldwide trends.

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Filed under Social Media Democracy, social trajectory

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