The politics of online herd mentalities

The politics of online herd mentalities

Image: Cesar Bojorquez

Although there are countless benefits to the spread and rise of internet usage, as with anything, there is always disadvantages, not least of all the growing herd mentalities it can allow to fester.

One place that has exemplified this best is Reddit, a site which allows you to create message boards on certain topics and ideas, and featuring rules on posting.These rules can isolate people from alternative mindsets, and create a bubble around people. This can cause fluctuations in what gets to the front page, and thus gets exposure and popularity, and what doesn’t.

This has become extremely obvious in the discussions around the American presidential election campaign and the divides it has caused in online communities.In the early stages of the Bernie Sanders page, for example, members joined with the intention of backing a small candidate. But as the community grew so did the hive mind that it was creating.

People with strong opinions became heard and people started to follow and shape their views in hopes they can be a part of something bigger than them.They started to mass up-voting articles which helped paint Bernie Sanders in a positive light and articles which paint his opposition in a negative light. At the same time, users would mass down vote the opposite, whether or not it was true. It became much more of a herd mentality, with discussions only going one way, and mass rejection of opposing views.

This has resulted in the page, and the wider movement, garnering a negative reputation on the site. People have become opposed to Bernie only due to the way his supporters acted, and not because of who he is or what he believes in.

In turn, this has resulted in Bernie supporters secluding themselves off even further from others and maintaining their political isolation and disdain for others who are not like them.This vicious cycle, and the mentalities it has produced, with uninformed views on either side, is my greatest gripe with the current state of the Internet. People no longer learn to expand their horizons and get comfortable with people who have different opinions, instead seeking their comfort zones, and aggressively attacking anyone or anything that threatens it.

This hive mentality even leaks into the real world at times. In Chicago, Donald Trump was forced to cancel a political rally because there were uproar and fighting inside the University of Illinois. Just as the rally was about to start, the protesters that were inside the pavilion began causing a ruckus.

Police were forced to try and calm the situation as Trump supporters began to retaliate. Violence eventually broke out when the Trump campaign announced that he was not going to show at the rally as the protestors chanted “We won”.

Just because people side with Trump does not mean they deserve to have their right to free speech tarnished. These protestors intended to stop people from expressing their opinion, instead of fighting for the important issues.

This is identical to the hive mindset that is online as people are being banned or taken down on websites due to their differing opinions.There needs to be a change. The Internet was made with the idea that people would be able to share not only their knowledge but their opinions and viewpoints as well. I believe that if we can change the way people behave towards each other on the internet, then we will eventually be able to change how people interact in real life.

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