The internet has changed the way we communicate with each other, for better or for worse. The ability to reach out to anybody in the world in seconds is one of the greatest gifts that we have in the 21st century.
This is not to say the internet is without faults, and while there are many, I’d like to talk today about callout culture and the effect of mob mentality.
Mob mentality has been around for millennia, but has only gained its heightened effects due to the rise of internet culture and social media. With billions of people online hearing and trying to be heard, the 15 minutes of fame of yesteryear has quickly dwindled down to 15 seconds. So how does one grab attention in this wild west scenario that we have today? Many people have found the answer quite easily in callout culture.
Simply put, callout culture is the use of lightning quick ad hominem attacks or the use of a lack of context to single out an individual for what is seen as “immoral behavior,” whether or not the issue at hand is something that happened or was quickly made up on the spot. Twitter and Facebook are two of the major areas where you can see callout culture take effect, though it’s not necessarily limited to those two sites.
As a side note, this does not necessarily mean that all callouts are wrong. The recent sexual assault controversy has outed some big name people who have taken advantage of their privileged position to hide immoral deeds occurring for years.
The issue is when attacks are quick, heavy handed or misleading, with examples of when author John Green was falsely accused of sexually abusing children in 2015, or when Reddit began sharing photos of a man who they wrongly believed was responsible for the Boston Marathon Bombing.
While someone like John Green, who’s put himself into the spotlight as a famous author, can survive an issue like this due to his experience being in the public eye, it’s not as easy for everyday people like you or me.
In fact, there are thousands of cases of some random nobody having a sarcastic joke taken out of context or saying something slightly rude and having a large group of practically anonymous users sending them death threats or asking for them to be fired. Jon Ronson, author of “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” notes that very often, when a woman is the target of a twitter shaming, it’s a very common issue that people begin tweeting that they hope the woman would get raped.
This attitude is so common in internet culture due to the simple barrier, the computer monitor, that exists between the person who participates in the shaming and the person being shamed. When you’re called out, you’re not a human being. You’re just an account on a screen, dehumanized and completely out of the person’s life. The person sits at their home and comments about your life, and all of a sudden they’re one of hundreds, if not thousands. To them, they’ve done nothing. To you, they’ve become another drop in a sea of voices, and you’re being drowned by constant threats at your life, your job, your home.
One tactic that’s commonly used is to send pizza’s to someone’s house, a covert way of telling someone that you know where they live, recently used on FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. Another is to send a SWAT team to your home.
The solution isn’t a simple one; mob mentality isn’t something that can be solved. At best, informing people about the problem and making people aware of the issues seems to be our best bet to make issues like these decrease; to make them realize that these actions have consequences, even if they don’t reach you immediately
Eric Ryan is a fourth-year student majoring in English writings track. He can be reached at ER821804@wcupa.edu.