It’s a story that’s all too common in this day and age; a person makes a seemingly innocuous post on social media, and they wake up the next day to a viral firestorm and a pending cancellation. They’re forced to apologize, but often that isn’t even enough since, by that point, the mob has moved on to the next victim. Nobody seems to be safe from this new phenomenon, but maybe that’s because it’s not all that new. It seems to be human nature for people to seek out entertainment at the expense of others.
Roman Gladiators, Public Floggings, and the French Revolution
Humans have a long history of seeking outlets for their innate fascination with violence. Emperors kept the poor Roman masses from revolting by giving them elaborate, bloody, and horrifyingly violent spectacles in the Colosseum. Public floggings and executions have long been used as a deterrent to would-be criminals, but they were just as often seen as forms of entertainment for bored people. And the French Revolution was well-known for its barbarism during the Reign of Terror, in which over 40,000 people were publicly executed.
Bringing it Back
Modern societies like to think they’ve moved past such primitive forms of entertainment, but the opposite is true.
Violent movies have long been a part of the culture, and for a while, it seemed like this would be enough to satisfy the bloodlust. The internet mob, however, proves this supposition wrong. People are just as willing as ever to destroy others, which begs the question; how much of this is genuine outrage, and how much of this is just another form of entertainment?
The Perceived Benefits of Cancel Culture
There’s plenty of evidence to support the idea that “cancel culture,” the mob’s desire to publicly shame a perceived moral crime, provides tangible “benefits” to individual participants. It allows a feeling of moral superiority, lets people elevate their social status by bringing others down, and helps someone achieve some perverse sense of community belonging. However, an even bigger component is the instant gratification it can provide. Just as the Romans did thousands of years ago, people today can get their fix of “seeing blood spill” by hopping on Twitter and spreading destructive lies or slander about someone.
An Old Phenomenon With New Potency
It’s not all the same, though. There’s well-documented evidence of crowds getting in on the torture action at public executions, usually in the form of throwing stuff at the accused. For a dramatic example of this, just check out the scene from Game of Thrones where Cersei is marched through King’s Landing. However, what those old scenes lacked was the ability to instantly impact vast swaths of people in the way that modern social media can. An internet mob’s victim can’t escape the canceling nowadays; the digital trail will follow them forever, and any future employers or business partners will see the accusations.
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All This for a Few Likes
It’s important to remember that social media is driven towards sensationalism by the constant need for “likes.” It’s also important to remember that it’s a relatively small number of users who post the overwhelming majority of content. These people get attention by putting up attention-grabbing headlines, and scandal and outrage are addicting. Put all this together, and it’s a recipe for disaster, as a bored user-base, continually looking for the next high of another public execution, is drawn towards increasingly outrageous claims.
A Problem With No Clear Solution
It’s intimidating to think that the damage that has already been done and continues to be done can be attributed to boredom and a need to be constantly entertained. But it can. The mob isn’t drawn to positive, uplifting content because that’s not what gets likes and engagement. This problem is huge, and it’s clear that humanity still doesn’t know what to do with all the awesome technology at its fingertips. At the end of the day, it’s just people with an innate tendency towards violence looking for their next fix.
Fight Misinformation With Aggressive Truth
Understanding this phenomenon can help a targeted brand craft an effective strategy. Most internet mobs are fed with lies and misinformation, and it requires loud and aggressive truth-telling to combat it. Even denying the lies is ineffective; the people spreading them aren’t worth an ounce of a company’s time.
When making the truth known, be sure not to accidentally spread the lies by repeating them in a denial. Never say “We are not such and so,” only say, “Actually, this is who we are and what we’re doing.”
This requires strong evidence to the contrary, and it’s up to the victim to provide it. Uncovering the original source of the lies is also helpful, as it can help to discredit them. And suing for heavy damages is a way to deter future attacks, especially when mainstream media outlets are involved.
An aggressive truth campaign is one of the only ways to fight back against the insatiable internet mob, and it needs to be a part of every company’s reputation management plan.