Authors Against Bullying Blog Hop: Crowd Bullying, Stepping Up and Stepping In

Posted & filed under Blog Hops.

When I think of the word “bullying” I typically picture a single person, maybe with a couple of minions, who steals lunch money or picks on smaller kids. But in my personal experience, bullying has more frequently been a crowd activity. Sometimes someone starts it and there are always a few people who are more vicious than others, but the real damage is done when a room turns on an individual. It can feel like everyone, even the supposedly nice people, are against you, and the feelings of fear and absolute loneliness can be devastating.

I don’t know a single person that was never bullied by a crowd. I could tell a school year’s worth of stories about being the youngest person in my Algebra II class and leaving every day with paper in my hair and something new stuffed into my notebook–like melted chocolate, empty Skoal cans or that illustrated flyer for how to check yourself for testicular cancer. (Yes, I’m female, and no, at the time I’d never seen the depicted anatomy.) I could talk about when I was trying out for the freshman basketball team and got surrounded by the varsity squad in the locker room when one of their teammates falsely accused me of trying to get her in trouble with the coach. Or the time I was chased out of a Bible study group for not wanting to send people to Hell. (Oh, the irony.)

But as frustrating and sometimes frightening as these were at the time, I can laugh about them now. Nothing that happened changed my self-perception. If anything I came out proud of myself for holding my ground. Not that I’m saying these people were right to do what they did or that I’m glad these incidences happened. I came out unscathed because I had the support from other people to see past a few jerks and know that the world wasn’t all bleak and unfriendly.

Those people who stuck up for and stood by me made the entire difference in who I am today. It’s not enough to simply not bully others. If we want to make a difference, we have to stand up for others… which is far harder than it sounds. Particularly when it’s not an individual bully, but a crowd.

Flashmobs use deindividuation for a cause. Whether a crowd is hostile and bullying or peaceful and giving is all about the rallying point. (photo by uwenna on Flickr)

It’s not simply fear that stops people from helping when a crowd turns against someone. There’s a psychological principle called deindividuation (commonly referred to as “mob mentality”) that basically means we humans are wired to release our self-identity for a crowd identity. Once we’ve deindividuated (I’m not sure if I can technically use that as a verb, but you know what I mean) our own moral compass gets chunked out the window and we temporarily lose our ability to feel guilt. This is the feeling that happens at a concert when you become one with the music and the crowd. In this case it’s harmless and euphoric. Deindividuation is also why crowds gathered around a suicide jumper are, horrifically enough, likely to shout for the person to jump. Some jerk starts the chant and the crowd joins in because they are no longer a collection of individuals but a pack with a common (im)moral purpose. Afterwards, people will be disgusted and terrified by the fact that they joined in, but at the time it felt natural. Because psychologically it’s the way we’re wired.

But we don’t have to give in to the lowest common denominator. The most important aspect of breaking down mob rule is to return people to their individual selves. Using a person’s name (if you know it) is a powerful tool for breaking the deindividuated state. If not, calling them out by their clothing and looks still calls attention to someone as an individual. (“Hey, blondie in the red shirt, you’re being an ass. Is that what you’re like all the time?”)

Another thing to remember is that crowds follow a rallying point. If there’s only one person leading the charge, that’s where deindividuated people will go regardless of their personal beliefs. If you give them a second option, a kinder rallying point that more closely resembles their personal morals, you have a chance at turning the crowd around.

I truly believe in my heart that most people are good inside. But my experience is that mean people are the loudest. With the human tendency to deindividuate and follow the loudest rallying point, bullying behavior can come from almost anyone under the right (wrong?) circumstances. That’s why nice people need to open our mouths and take a stand. Don’t let the angry voices be the loudest ones. Make your voice heard. By stepping up and stepping in to a bullying situation, you have the power to turn around a hostile crowd, a bad situation…and a person’s life.

8 Responses to “Authors Against Bullying Blog Hop: Crowd Bullying, Stepping Up and Stepping In”

    • Jax

      Thanks E.J.! As authors, we KNOW how powerful words can be. I love your post on your site. Bravo to you for standing up not just for yourself but for others as well!

      • Taryn Raye

        I’d never heard of deindividuation, but that does explain why some flock to a bully like sheep, following the herd when normally they wouldn’t join in with that kind of behavior. Thank you for sharing!

        • Jax

          No problem, Taryn. Deindividuation is a scary thing when used for bad purposes. But like any form of social pressure, it can be used for good things, too. Those people who keep their heads when things get out of hand, need to work on shifting the situation instead of stepping aside and letting it happen. I think the more people understand human psychology, the better we are able to do that–and to make sure WE don’t fall victim to tricks from our own brains!

  1. Michelle M. Pillow (@MichellePillow)

    You make excellent points about deindividuation, as if somehow 40 people doing a bad thing somehow makes it ok. It’s sad our brains sometimes function like that.

    I’m very proud to be a part of this important event, and empowered by all the stories of hope and encouragement I’m reading today. It’s wonderful that people can get together and promote the positive. Thanks for the post!

    • Jax

      I’m proud to be part of this event, too! A big thanks to Mandy and Yasmine for putting it together, and all the authors who participated. It’s been enlightening to read everyone’s stories and ideas.

    • Jax

      Who we are is all about those choice thingies we make. 😉 Thanks for stopping by, Jess! I appreciated your post today on your own blog.


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