Social media and the stupidity of the crowd

Aristotle hates Athenian Democracy. He saw that the idea of everyone (well they only accepted white older men of a certain class) voting on every decision to be made was subject to the whims of the population’s swaying attitude and was rarely based on purely rational decision making.

You’ve heard it before. A person is smart. People are stupid.

Crowds have their abilities. James Surowiecki’s popularized “The Wisdom of Crowds” explains very particular situations in which the crowd holds an almost ethereal ability and knowledge. But what about when an idea that is inherently wrong gets picked up by the crowd.

You may have seen the experiments: take a few people, put them on the street corner, pay them to look up into the sky at nothing (but act like they’re looking at something particular) and eventually you’ll have a whole mass of people doing the same. Or how about the line experiments where people in a classroom are asked to judge openly if a line is shorter or the same size as a line right beside it? The lines are obviously different, but when everyone else in the room (who are paid) say the lines are the same, the person, on which the experiment is being conducted, complies against his or her normally better judgement.

So social media, for all it’s positives… has some detrimental aspects. It allows for the easy propagation of all ideas… even the dumb ones.



Filed under All posts, Thoughts, studies and science

2 responses to “Social media and the stupidity of the crowd

  1. It’s true. I guess a further truth is that no matter whether an idea is good or bad, when the crowd picks up its banner, someone or some people make money from its success. Unfortunately, because we tend to view success as how much money something makes, this often leads to the reinforcing of bad ideas or structures.

    A question I have is whether this can be combated or changed, or if it’s just inherent in our core selves; or our core collective selves, rather.

    • I don’t think macro tendencies like this can ever be changed. The best thing that can be done is just to recognize them and notice when they happen… though that’s not doing much.

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