Social Media Lynch Mobs: A Critical Analysis

Understanding the Phenomenon of Social Media Mob Outrage in terms of Jungian Shadow Projection and Girardian Mimetic Crises.

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21st Century social media – Twitter, Facebook, and the like – have essentially brought Wild West-style lynch mobs and rough justice into the Cyber Age subverting, in effect, centuries of human social development into the modern civilized society of law and high ideals. On social media, these days, it is quite common to find situations where a random person somewhere makes a slightly off-color or inappropriate remark, which is immediately pounced upon by a horde of self-righteous social justice warrior-types and turned into a globally trending topic on Twitter or Facebook, in an attempt not only to publicly shame or humiliate the person in question but, indeed, to call for their personal destruction in the most vicious ways imaginable.

Author and journalist Jon Ronson describes the phenomenon in his book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (Picador, 2016), in which he recounts several anecdotes involving random, ordinary people whose lives and reputations were overturned and ruined by mobs of self-righteous SJWs, piling on comment upon comment on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, in denunciation of what was, typically, a relatively minor, insignificant offense, but which, through reiteration and distortion, was blown out of all proportion into an apparently serious crime. These crazed, vindictive SJW mobs seemed to be convinced, nevertheless, that by venting their wrath on random innocents, they were somehow righting the wrongs of civilized society.

The truth is that their actions represent anything but civilized society. This kind of lynch-mob rough justice, characteristic of a more barbarous age, such as those of the Wild West or the deep South during the Jim Crow era, really only plays into peoples’ basest instincts – namely, a craving for sensationalism, internet celebrity and instant gratification. It is, ultimately, mean-spirited and self-serving – having little to do with actual justice or truth and everything to do with primal, animalistic drives and urges.

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There are a number of academic models that can help one come to a better understanding of such behavioral phenomena. One motif is to be found in the Analytical Psychology of Carl Gustav Jung. Jung describes the concept of the “shadow” which, he suggests, represents the dark side of the human personality and the repository of one’s suppressed urges and anxieties, hidden from the waking, conscious mind. In his work, Jung points out that “the shadow, being instinctive and irrational, is prone to psychological projection, in which a perceived personal inferiority is recognized as a perceived moral deficiency in someone else” (Wikipedia entry on Shadow (psychology)):

Projection is one of the commonest psychic phenomena…. Everything that is unconscious in ourselves we discover in our neighbor, and we treat him accordingly. (Carl Jung, Archaic Man)

Thus, the phenomenon of “shadow projection”, as described in Jungian Psychology, is not merely hypocrisy, which is a conscious act. Rather, it is the unconscious projection onto others of one’s own deep-seated personal insecurities and sources of guilt and shame. This suggests that the biggest accusers in the social media landscape secretly harbor a personal guilt or shame associated with the very subject of their accusations.

It must be noted, however, that this is not to suggest that all conscientious whistle-blowers are, in fact, acting out of Jungian shadow-projection. In general, nevertheless, this tendency certainly does seem to apply in typical lynch mob-type scenarios, in which the loudest accusers tend to be the most secretly guilt-ridden of the very crimes of which they accuse others. Thus, very frequently, the loudest voices accusing others of racism, antisemitism or prejudice are themselves the most personally flawed in exactly the ways they accuse others of being.

Another academic model that can help us come to grips with the 21st century phenomenon of social media lynch mobs is the concept of “mimesis,” as described, in his works, by philosopher Re Girard. Mimesis, which Girard describes as the unconscious urge to imitate the desires and anxieties of one’s peers and rivals, is seen by him to be a critical governing factor in social behaviors of various kinds. This human tendency is clearly visible in social media trends, fashion crazes, stock market cycles, and so forth. Girard notes that a “mimetic crisis” happens in a society when, as a result of some calamity, people begin to emulate the anxieties of their peers in relation to the perceived cause of the said calamity. Thus, when blame is cast on an individual or group, for some perceived or actual misdeed, the tendency for blame quickly spreads among vast populations as a mimetic “contagion,” resulting in a scenario similar to modern social media shamings or, in the past, to lynch mobs or witch-hunts (as in Salem, Mass. or during the McCarthy trials, both of which represent classic Girardian scenarios of mimetic contagion and crisis). This results, inevitably, in the gang-stalking and scapegoating of random individuals, which often lead to their unjustified ostracizing, public humiliation and even, at times, to violence and blood-letting, all in a whirlwind of self-righteous mob indignation.

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The worst part of this phenomenon, as it manifests itself in the social media landscape, is not so much that it is to be found in the human psyche. These aspects of human behavior have long been known and discussed by philosophers and psychologists. Rather, it appears that such behavior is being actively perpetuated and even encouraged and abetted by social media corporations. Instead of policing their platforms to protect the rights of individuals and the average user, it appears that social media companies are really primarily interested in protecting the wealthy, powerful and well-connected. They would, in fact, go so far as to censor any valid criticism of corruption in high places or depravity among the elite. Rather, like the mainstream media in general, they are frequently seen to be quick to jump on the bandwagon of social media mimetic trends in order to exploit them for private enrichment, often at the expense of the random individual. They do little or nothing to police mimetic crises involving, for example, the social-media lynching of random citizens for relatively minor, innocuous offenses, or the scapegoating of minorities, etc.

This suggests to me that there is an active agenda at work behind corporations in the social media space – corporations like Twitter, Facebook, Google/YouTube, Apple, Microsoft, etc. There appears to be an agenda cynically to manipulate the public in such a way as to encourage and exploit the scapegoating of random innocents for relatively minor offenses, which are often sensationally blown way out of proportion in terms of their severity or importance. Simultaneously, these corporations actively protect wealthy and well-connected “elites” from any criticism, frequently helping to cover up very real, significant crimes and misdeeds. This is often achieved through mismanaged policing of their platforms and practices like censorship, shadow-banning and the stifling of legitimate discourse, to say nothing of the theft of personal identity and information from social media users.

Whether this is all part of an elaborate, pre-conceived agenda to cover up corporate and elite criminality or just the natural offshoot of corporate PR coupled with pressure from advertisers, remains to be seen. What is unquestionable, though, is the basic corporate greed at work in the exploitation of social trends. The bottom line is that social media corporations have fallen far short of expectations when it comes to enabling or empowering the masses and serving as a means of self-expression or a voice for justice. Rather, they are proving to be part of the systemic repression of the masses and are acting as enablers of some of the very basest of human instincts – for instance, the desires for mob justice, for media sensationalism, and the deep-seated, innate human drives towards cruelty, vindictiveness and violence. Mainstream social media corporations, thus, have a great deal to answer for!

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