They come together in the dark.
Hidden at first. But slowly, one comes. And then another. And then another.
You don’t think it’s anything at first. You think, how could just a few do anything? I’m fine, it’s okay.
But then more come. From the depths, they come. From the places you didn’t know existed. The places you don’t look because you’re too busy with living.
But they’re there. And soon they’re all together. And they’re a swarm. And now you can’t ignore them, even though still there aren’t that many. They’re enough to do damage. Enough to swarm, attack, destroy, and then leave without a trace.
They are the mobs of the internet.
It used to be that angry mobs were formed in villages and small towns when people were angry about something specific. Maybe a good ol’ witch burning.
But now, the mobs come around specific causes. Around an idea that many people want to fight for. The believers see the things that bother them, they see a world that is unjust in their eyes, and they burn up inside. So they go looking for the like-minded folks, the folks that agree with them, and slowly, their numbers build.
And then, as their numbers grow, they are ready to attack when something upsets them.
Whether it’s just a group of angry teens in /r/cringe on Reddit devoted to bullying the people they’ve laid random judgement upon, the new-atheists who seem to swarm any article or forum that upsets them, or the anti-semites and bigots that for the first time in a generation are able to connect like they never had, these internet mobs are becoming more and more powerful. More and more vocal.
And as the internet evolves, so do the mobs. The mobs of the towns and villages were just the beginning, weren’t they? Remember how they evolved. Remember how they exist even today in so many places.
The more sophisticated mobs are called “societies”. Yes, yes, they’re the villages themselves transformed into places of violence.
Look to the east, and you’ll see what I mean. Warlords are the leaders in many countries. As much as some guy will pretend to be president these days, we know that there are swarms of people led by angry, vengeful leaders bent on controlling their hordes with iron fists. These are the “sophisticated” mobs. The ones that have specific missions, specific enemies, and that don’t spring up spontaneously, but organize, build, buy weapons, and work tirelessly to kill all in their path.
Afghanistan has ‘em. Somalia has ‘em.
And soon, the internet will have ‘em.
Indeed, they already exist in some forms. Anonymous, the famous hacker collective, is perhaps the best example of the power a few angry, hidden, vicious people can have on the world. A mob of men devoted to a cause they think they believe in, wielding their power as a group to destroy the evil they see all around them.
It’s only the beginning, of course. The internet is in its adolescence, just learning how to hold itself a bit like an adult, full of pimples and missteps and confusion.
But soon it will grow, and the angry people will grow, and their power will grow, and the mobs will turn into societies ruled by warlords.
It’s beginning, and if you look closely you can see it. Anonymous is the tip of the iceberg.
If you buy a word I’m saying, then maybe you’re a bit scared. It’s scary to think that after humanity worked so hard to build a world where the mobs wouldn’t constantly terrorize and control us that suddenly they have the potential for more power than they ever had. Antisemites, that have been driven so far down into obscurity that we thought they could never come out to play again, suddenly have built entire websites to support and power their hate-fueled rage. Racists and all the others also.
The power is back in the haters’ hands, and the more the internet stays deregulated, the more power they will have. It is, indeed, scary. And if you pay close enough attention to the internet, you can see it in action. Just open your eyes.
And so, sometimes it can feel scary when we look, when we realize what’s happening, that people like terrorists or the other angry mobs can suddenly have more power than you’d ever imagine. And that meanwhile, even those spontaneously-formed ones can go and start witch-hunts against whomever they randomly have chosen as their enemy.
Yes, yes, it’s scary.
But it’s only scary when we stop there. It’s only scary when we don’t keep looking.
Because there is also a beauty in the mob. A potential that is untapped. Something that if we just ignore it and try to live our lives as if they don’t exist, would only hurt us. We’d be missing out on something beautifully powerful.
Hasidic Jews believe that everything has its holy angle, its holy side to it. And I believe that’s true with the mobs of the internet-age as well.
It’s true that anger can fuel these mobs. The ones we read about usually tend to be. They’re the loudest ones, at least.
But just as there were terrible, horrible, destructive mobs of the past, there were also good mobs. Mobs… with incredible power.
An example: The blacks in this country had been repressed for ages. Even after being released from slavery, they were cut off from the rest of the community, they were forced into bad schools and their own water fountains.
And one man decided that it was time to change it. And to do that, he harnessed the power of the mob.
Martin Luther King Jr. formed a mob. A mob of holiness. The reverend led a group of passionate, devoted people to change the world. To change America forever. And he did it without anger. He did it with personal power. He used the potential of a mob, the idea of getting a group of people together around and idea, and he transformed it into something non-violent and yet beyond strong.
And he changed the world more than any mob like the Black Panthers ever could.
Today, some (potentially) good mobs on the internet have been formed. The Egyptians who destroyed their iron-handed bastard of a leader did it largely through the internet. There are an immense amount of examples of people doing incredible kindnesses in large numbers through the internet.
A mob is not inherently a bad thing. It is just that, like so many other things in the world, it has largely been used as a destructive tool.
But it’s a tool also for the good people. A tool for you and me. We can use it, we can mold it, we can work together to build a world that right now is almost impossible to imagine. A world where goodness flows from our very computers and out into the real world.
Unfortunately, right now, most of the goodness done on the internet is done through those spontaneous moments of giving. But soon, the power of the good will grow, and you and I, we’ll build mobs so powerful, so focused on building as opposed to destroying, that they will take over the world.
Gangs of goodness will march through the internet, much like the mobs of destruction do now. Going from place to place and helping those around them.
It will happen. Just like it happened in a smaller scale with the world, so will it happen in an infinite fashion on the web.
The only question is, are you ready to make it happen?