(The full article is available for reading here.)
Back in December, a PR executive sent an offensive tweet before hopping on a trans-atlantic flight.
By the time she had landed, she had sparked a trending hashtag and parody account on Twitter and been verbally torn apart by bloggers and Twitter users.
Along with her reputation, she’d also lost her job.
Now, it was a very offensive tweet—but the incident served as a good example of the way social media can stir up big groups of people. Somehow, thousands of people read and reacted to that tweet—thousands of people who didn’t know anything about the tweeter other than her name and the content of that one tweet.
The New Mobs
The advent of Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere has created new ways of conveying information that can reach millions of people within seconds. Not only can this information be beamed directly to people, but it can mobilize large groups into action, effectively creating virtual mobs.
This phenomenon can have positive effects. It can enact real change, like the overthrow of a repressive regime or, less radically, a change in a harmful company policy. But sometimes they are misguided, unhelpful or even based on faulty information, like when a large number of folks on Reddit worked to find the Boston marathon bomber, but turned out to be mistaken.
The Internet is the gateway to spark a movement, and there are people with many different agendas who know this. However, often it’s not a conspiracy of mass-media or a certain group, but rather just people following where the crowd starts to go.