How Social Media Encourages GroupThink

When people prevent us from using our critical thinking skills —  we all lose! An essay how social media encourages groupthink in today’s fast breaking news cycle.

How Social Media Encourages GroupThink
Photo by JD Mason on Unsplash

By Marley K.

Friends Don’t Stop Friends From Thinking Critically

I was having a heated discussion with a good friend on the Smollett case (which I hope hurry up and dies soon) about our reactions and responses to the initial breaking news of the allegation. I was in the kitchen cooking so I was listening to her read each story and subsequent response. We were in two separate rooms so I did not receive the raw emotion and energy she felt from reading her social media streams.

Each time she read a comment and attempted to convince me the allegation was true, I would push back to the original story. She was heavily vested in the celebrity endorsements. My friend was also not feeling me pushing back. At one point she basically condoned me for being skeptical and not hopping on the Smollett bandwagon. I didn’t care. I wasn’t budging. I know Groupthink when I see it and hear it, and I don’t like it.

My friend essentially discredited my logically, thoughtful arguments to go along with the group. I was called all sorts of names.

What Is Group Think?

Irving L. Janis coined the term “Groupthink,” and published his research in the 1972 book, “Groupthink.” His findings came from research into why a team reaches an excellent decision one time, and a disastrous one the next. He discovered that a lack of conflict or opposing viewpoints led to poor decisions, because alternatives were not fully analyzed, and because groups did not gather enough information to make an informed decision.

Groupthink occurs when the desire for group consensus overrides people’s common sense desire to present alternatives, critique a position, or express an unpopular opinion. Here, the desire for group cohesion effectively drives out good decision-making and problem-solving. Symptoms of group thinking include (1) Rationalization, (2) Peer Pressure, (3) Complacency, (4) Moral (5) High Ground, (6) Stereotyping, (7) Censorship, and (8) Illusion of Unanimity.

The Smollett case like many other cases played out on social media can easily make us all victims of groupthink. In addition to groupthink happening on social media, it also happens in politics, in schools (public school education is notorious for group think), in religion, social justice causes, and law enforcement, in the military, and any place where people may be reluctant to express their own opinions fearing ridicule.

No one should be shamed for having a different opinion, especially when important and critical decisions need to be made.

Group Think Can Be Extremely Dangerous

Groupthink (in negative situations) stifles thinkers, leaving them wounded victims who usually end disillusioned and dissatisfied (sounds a lot like politics today, right?). People will begin to feel they can’t say or do anything about decisions impacting them or their group in some situations. Eventually, the enthusiasm begins to fade. Soon, the people who are supposed to be allies have fallen back and no longer engaging, or worse, they decide to become the group’s antagonist. Groupthink can make good people turn bad!

Additionally, well-intentioned people sometimes make irrational or non-optimal decisions/choices fueled by the urge to conform or the discouragement of dissent. Groupthink fosters a strong “us versus them” mentality, forcing members to accept group perspectives in the heat of the moment, even when these perspectives don’t necessarily align with their personal views. This should never happen.

As a society, we’ve gotta get back to allowing people to think for themselves, come to conclusions for themselves, and even disagree with our views and decisions without fear or retribution.

My Natural Gift Works For Me

I’m an empath, it’s kind of like a real sixth sense. I can sense things. I can sense things from reading words. I read between lines perfectly, and I know when there is an in between the lines situation I need to get clarity on before moving on. I feel things. I can feel when there is trouble. I can feel sincerity. I can also feel insincerity, even when it’s delivered with a big ole smile. My mind, soul, and spirit are in concert at all times. So when I disagree with groupthink it’s because my body and spirit knows best.

When I disobey my gift, I usually pay a hefty price. I’ve learned over the years to trust my instincts.

Most importantly, I can sense a lie, especially when I’m paying close attention.

In addition to being an empath, I was taught in school and at home, something kids aren’t taught much today — and that’s how to use critical thinking skills and common sense. We’ve allowed social media emotions to take over our own, and we’ve allowed social media to tell us how we should feel, and if you don’t conform, you’re ostracized. That’s groupthink folks in a nutshell. Today, people are vilified if they don’t use the good old fashioned group-think method. We should just do what everybody else is doing to fit in and vilify the ones who don’t go along for the sake of getting along.

That’s just wrong.

At the end of the day, we should never vilify people for using their critical thinking skills, even when the results of their thought-processes don’t align with ours. It’s a form of dumbing us down. It’s telling people what to think and how to think — and no sane person wants that for their lives, especially not grown people. That one voice of reason could save your project, save your group or your team, and maybe even your life. If we are no longer allowed to think critically, then we have a serious problem in this country.

When groups of any kind (religious, educational, social, political, ethnic, etc.) prevent us from using our critical thinking skills, we all lose.