SocNets == Groupthink?

Via those crazy kids at comes an article whose writer analyses the culture of social networks and media with the “groupthink” criteria of Irving L Janis, coming to the conclusion that our favourite websites and communication channels may be (gasp!) gathering us into groups where the established and accepted truths remain unquestioned.

It’s not the first time the issue has been raised (and frankly I’ve given it greater credence on those occasions when I’ve seen it on sites who employ a copyeditor and/or whose side-barred “all-time most popular article” isn’t entitled “10 Ways To Have Fun With Boobs”) but my response remains the same: find me a human social construct or communication platform that doesn’t put vague ticks in most of those boxes.

Groupthink is a function of being human; it’s the phenomenon that makes party-based political systems not just possible but debilitatingly pervasive. Do social networks enable groupthink to take root? Sure they do – but I think it’s safe to say they offer more opportunity for dissent and debate than the old centralized broadcast media that they’re replacing ever did. As always, the problem isn’t technology, it’s people.

3 thoughts on “SocNets == Groupthink?”

  1. I’m open to this idea, but the linked article furnishes exactly zero evidence. As you point out, versions of this idea have been raised before, notably by Cass Sunstein in Republic 2.0. Sunstein is a voracious consumer of social science and collects a lot of good experimental and numerical evidence about “groupthink”-type effects in a variety of contexts.

  2. Once again a case of Science coming to conclusions the rest of us take for granted. Hey everyone: do yourself a favor and even if you won’t read every post go out and subscribe to some quality conservative/Not My Party writings: just exposing yourself to a small degree of thought-diversity will make you a more capable listener (because hearing ideas outside of your paradigm is always difficult) which will in turn make you a better conversationalist (because I note a strong tendency to zone out whenever people are presented with non-standard ideas) which will in turn make you a more flexible and better thinker.

    So if you hew to the Druidic worldview that we can’t escape the Malthusian trap with technology, go read some Drexler. If you’re of the opinion that government funding drives scientific or industrial innovation, go read some Romer (or if you’re strapped for time Warsh’s Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations is a good start). My point is that strength – be it intellectual or muscular – comes from frequent and rigorous exercise of the muscles in question. If you wish to improve your biking endurance, bike more frequently for increasingly longer periods.

    If you seek to make an independent thinker of yourself, go forth and consider others ideas: simply reading their words is not enough – you must actually consider them as true (at least for a moment) and then ruminate on the implications. What if cutting taxes fueled growth? What if raising taxes gave the government the ability to pay for social programs? What if the quality of our patent system didn’t really matter (w/r/t growth and innovation) but only the fact that we have one and protect our patent-holders vigorously?

    If you find yourself in an echo chamber, you might want to look for the door. If you cannot recognize the cages in your mind, of your own creation, then I have little hope that my words will affect you. Perhaps someone like Mencius Moldbug might.

  3. Kudos to Evil Rocks.

    The moment you start dismissing things out of hand, intellectual ossification has set in–you have to actively fight the (easy and comforting) urge to stay in your own rut, all of your life.

    And don’t get me started on groupthink in science fiction . . .

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