Angry, angrier, angriest: how an internet mob works


Despite the glowing, rectangular devices we spend our days staring at and the ethically farmed food we eat in gastropubs, underneath, we humans are essentially the same pitchfork-wielding rustics we were a thousand years ago. And nowhere is this more apparent than on internet forums and chat rooms. Indeed, such is the anonymity that these supposedly 21st Century places provide, they become fertile breeding grounds for one-eyed medieval gobshitery of the worst kind. From rabble-rousing toerags to I’ll-say-anything-to-be-popular no-marks whose only goal is to fit in with a load of people they’ve never met, the cyber-mob displays all the characteristics of the actual mob, though with little chance of physical retribution to temper it, its behaviour is actually worse. 

The success of the mob – and by that I mean the realisation of the will of a cohesive group – depends on the actions of certain individuals. Through looking at various football forums and the comments section of The Guardian – because, let’s face it, they’re all but burning people at the stake over there – these people are are easily identifiable. How and when they act sets the agenda in both cyberspace and increasingly – and worryingly – the real world. 

Mr Popular
Through regular posting and the use of persuasive and cohesive ideas, Mr Popular is the forum’s most respected poster. Cloaking his (often extreme) views in reasonable language, he plays with the emotions of individual posters like some creepy puppet-master from a 1970s horror flick. With his endorsement, the internet mob has legitimacy.

The Agent-Provocateur
Possessing the sort of thick skin that would make a rhino grab for the moisturiser, AP spends his cyber-time putting up preposterous untruths and hate-fuelled allegations, usually roundly ignored and ridiculed by The Soldiers (see below). With no friends in the real world and still smarting from the time his soiled underpants were found on a school trip to the baths, AP dreams about just one of his pointless causes being taken up. When, for once, Mr Popular goes along with what he’s saying and acts as a catalyst to the mob, AP’s enemy suddenly becomes everyone else’s. Oh happy day!

The Wind Vane
The sort of boring, unobtrusive nonentity that makes up the majority of the population, Wind Vane is an irregular poster, happier to observe and follow those with more wit than he. Never willing to truly commit himself on any subject, WV’s post are never, ever replied to. On one hand, this makes him feel sad and irrelevant, on the other the idea that he might just write something other people don’t like fills him with dread. When the mob is whipped up, WV observes from the sidelines, getting a vicarious thrill from both someone else’s suffering, and the fact that it’s not him who’s getting tarred and feathered. 

The Soldiers
From Wat Tyler bringing cartloads of yokels to London to get slaughtered by Richard II to hordes of hygienically-challenged Parisians sticking Louis XVI on the Madame Guillotine’s bloody chopping board, the mob is only realised when masses join it. Once Mr Popular has endorsed Agent-Provocateur’s statement/observation, The Soldiers jump in like load of hoodies on Lancashire housing estate who’ve just found out that the awkward feller at the end of the road used to manage a kids’ football team. Nothing will satisfy them bar the ruination of the individual at the centre of their venom. 

The Dissenter
While the mob relentlessly kick lumps out of their target, one person steps into the breach and point out the stupidity and sheer futility of everyone else’s behaviour – think Henry Fonda in Twelve Angry Men. He is always completely and utterly fucking ignored. 

This article first appeared in Issue three of Umbrella

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