“The underlying social and psychological motivations that drive crowds have remained constant over time. But our new technological scaffolding has changed the way that they form and exist in the world. Today’s crowds can grow to unheard-of proportions and never dissolve. Their members are no longer equal. And for the technologically savvy, their power they embody is easier to wield, and the members are easier to manipulate.” – Renee DiResta on RibbonFarm
According to Renee DiResta, the new digital crowd that influences public opinion is “persistent and large & unequal and easy to manipulate”. Digital social media platforms are changing the influence that crowds have on society because once formed, they no longer need to disperse. I mentioned before that social media can reverse into constant outrage, in we are the media.
Using the same laws of media, that any technology extends a human capability, while obsolescing a previous capability, and also retrieving some function from the past, but having the potential to reverse its intended effects if pushed too far. It seems that social media are already reversing the initial potential of extending the power and reach of small groups and becoming large online harassment mobs. I recommend reading the full article on RibbonFarm to understand the major impact that digital crowds already have.
So what can we do to retrieve rationality and perhaps ensure a safer, more peaceful society? In Canada we describe this as: Peace, Order, and Good Government. First of all, we need to become more literate on how these platforms work and their effects. This is the new literacy. I promote personal knowledge mastery as a discipline to build a rational but human foundation for sense-making in the digital surround. It includes many tools and models from various fields, one of the more recent resources I came across is this cognitive bias cheat sheet by Buster Benson.
We also need to self-organize. The technology that enables muckrakers to easily spread their filth also enables rational thoughts to be shared and progressive ideas to be developed. But this requires an active and engaged citizenry because we are the experts and cannot leave our network society to the extremists. So let’s keep seeking new ideas and perspectives and share our sense-making to counter the noise of the digital mobs.