The Psychological Side of Protest

Bill Wasik does an excellent job of explaining how social media and the instantaneousness of contemporary technology make riots stronger, more unpredictable, and more dynamic.  Social media possesses the ability to bring groups together who would have never found each other otherwise, while instant communication bases like BBM and Twitter serve to physically converge the members of these groups in events like riots and protests.  Combined, these two forces strengthen one’s belongingness in the group and create the “Elaborated Social Identity Model” which creates a dynamic group, rather than individual, identity and frees members to act on their “baser impulses,” thus intensifying the riot.

When discussing the potential for apps to play a role in planning and executing riots more effectively, Wasik states that “When disorder strikes or danger looms, [rioters] will fall back on the social ties they have already established, the tools they already posses, the patterns they already follow.”  With this very observation, Wasik speaks against his own argument that when people come together to riot, they will act strongly in favor of the group’s agenda or “identity”.  The very nature of these violent riots presents participants, first-timers and regulars, with a dangerous, uncertain situation.  According to Wasik’s statement, these rioters are likely to fall back on their pre-established social ties and patterns, they will revert to their more practiced, and likely more socially acceptable, behaviors and lose the spark to act that is mob mentality.  Although Wasik thoroughly discusses the role of psychological group dynamic in riots, he fails to bring both possible outcomes together to analyze which group situations might produce stronger riots and which may weaken the event’s agenda, which is an important factor when considering the psychological processes involved in riots and protests.



2 responses to “The Psychological Side of Protest

  1. coffeeshoprhino

    Can you connect this specifically to the OWS movement?

  2. The protesters of the Occupy Wallstreet Movement need to remain large in numbers in order to make their point heard, but violent outbreaks negatively impact the perception of the movement in the media and inhibit its effectiveness. The psychological dynamics discussed in Wasik’s article are important to the OWS movement because there appears to be a fine line between large groups that are effective in protesting and large groups that create mass mayhem and portray to the non-protesting public a negative, counter-productive agenda. In order for OWS to attain maximum efficacy via a positive public image that people, politicians and ordinary citizens alike, will want to support, these psychological issues need to be further explored and cannot remain contradictory to one another as they are presented in Wasik’s article.

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