Groupthink, individualism, and how social media contributes to both
Social media is full of contradictions. It has managed to both connect and isolate us. It plays the part of a melting pot and an echo chamber. It promotes self-acceptance, while squandering self-esteem across demographics.
One of its more fascinating paradoxes is how it contributes to groupthink and encourages individualism simultaneously.
Thanks to social media, congregating with like-minded peers can be done in a few clicks. People gravitate towards familiarity, and social media amplifies this behaviour to an alarming extent. Algorithms ensure that we're insulated in a bubble where our existing beliefs are validated, opposing ones are rarely encountered and, consequently, seldom considered.
One proliferation of this phenomenon is "cancel culture". While this trend may have started out to promote accountability, it has evolved to a form of mob rule which promotes censorship and silences dissenting opinions.
Coordinated attempts to punish the offender is the final stage in which the cybermob plays the role of judge, jury, and executioner. In certain scenarios, even neutrality is viewed as complicity. The pressure to conform to popular opinion prevents alternate viewpoints from being discussed.
Another manifestation of social media induced groupthink is mass circulation of misinformation. The fact that most individuals don't bother verifying the information they see on other accounts before sharing it from their own makes this a common occurrence. After a belief takes root, people are reluctant to change their narrative.
Our innate confirmation bias ensures we see flaws in narratives that don't fit ours, but we do not possess the same level of scepticism for our own views. In some cases, spreading false information can lead to political polarisation, conspiracy theories, and even social unrest.
While some users do feel the need to conform, countless others spend ages crafting a unique identity for themselves for social media. It is encouraged to build your own "brand" or "aesthetic" especially on platforms like Instagram and TikTok.
From curating feeds to sticking with certain visuals, much effort is spent on getting likes, follows, retweets or any form of social media currency. Maintaining a strong presence in these populated networks requires people to focus on themselves more than ever, which is seen as a major instigator to a culture of narcissism.
For adolescents and teens, social media is also a tool to explore and experiment with their identities. Virtual spaces offer more flexibility and even anonymity for those who require it. People's online personas wield massive influence on their real-world personalities. Many create and spread digital content, whether it be art, poetry, videos, or even random ramblings, as means of self-expression.
While both phenomena have coexisted together in the past, recent trends indicate that collectivism is winning out over individualism. Whether it will stay this way remains to be seen.
Ziba Mahdi is your resident pessimist. Cheer her up at firstname.lastname@example.org