It occurred to me today, while reading a story about a person targeted by anti-vaccination activists, that her ordeal was very much like that of the Sandy Hook parents targeted by InfoWars, which was very much like … you get the picture.
It’s a commonplace that the Internet is conducive to online mobs: people come together and temporarily find shared purpose swarming a stranger. Each participant individually metes out a small share of what seems like justice, but there are far too many of them, result misery.
But what if that’s not exactly right? Social media can bring millions of people together, but it takes a much smaller group to light the match and fan the flames. If that group has shared values, private networks for coordination and mutual reinforcement, a common vocabulary and rhetorical toolkit, a lot of free time, and an overriding sense of purpose, it will be that much more effective.
In other words, maybe the Internet isn’t optimized for mobs, so much as it’s optimized for cults.