Jacqueline didn't take it well.
Monday (completely coincidentally, the day I posted about the dangers of aggressive venting to cope with anger), things got wild. The author's comments got strident and then offensive. She attacked the reviewer and some of the folks who defended him. And was the writing community going to stand for that? Oh HELLS no.
It went viral. I watched it go down. Dozens of Tweets flew through my feed, all linking to Big Al's blog. After seeing several, I bit. I went over there to see what was happening.
Whoa. Over the next few hours, I witnessed an amazing live demonstration of several psychological concepts. It was so extreme that it left me with the feeling I have if I find a $20 on the sidewalk. All right, where's the camera and the psych undergrad? This must be an experiment.
Sadly, I don't think it was. So, here's your social psychology refresher:
The Bandwagon Effect: When something's popular, people tend to go along with it for social reasons. We jump on.
- When I first checked Big Al's blog, he had 75 followers (I'd bet a lot that was double what he had first thing Monday morning). At the writing of this post, less than 48 hours later, he has 614.
- Monday morning, he had less than 10 comments on that review post. By the time he closed comments late Monday afternoon (less than 8 hours later), there were 307. But that didn't stop anyone. In another of his posts, there are now 85 comments, most of which were left after the other thread was closed.
- At Absolute Write, the thread started to discuss the debacle has over 250 responses now.
- The book in question had exactly 3 reviews Monday morning. Last I checked, there were 68 reviews, and 54 of them were 1 star. Most of those folks had never read the book.
The Downward Comparison: We feel good when we compare ourselves to less fortunate, less talented, less well-behaved, less shiny others. The concept of schadenfreude is closely related--taking pleasure in the misfortune of others. This could also be called the *points and laughs* phenomenon.
- There were several gleeful responses in the comment stream, heaping insults and ridicule, discussing how the author had committed "career suicide."
- The reviews at Amazon were full of harsh pronouncements such as "I know pre-school children with better grammar", "would make good toilet paper if it was printed", "semi-illiterate author", and on and on. Several reviews make fun in different ways, from making crude jokes based on the title of the book (which, unfortunately, lends itself to such things) to mocking the author's various grammatical errors in her comments and the book.
Group Polarization: The tendency of people to make decisions that are more extreme when they're in a group compared to when they're alone. I really think many of the people who added their two cents would not have said things in quite the same way if so many others hadn't fanned the flames, so to speak. It sort of pushed the limit, made more extreme speech acceptable.
But wait, there's more!
Online Disinhibition Effect: This is a newer term, coined within the last ten years, that refers to how some people disclose or act out more intensely online than they would in person. I believe (hope), to some extent, the author herself was influenced by this phenomenon. It's clear many of the commenters, including the hundreds of anonymous commenters, were. There are a host of variables that influence the strength of online disinhibition effect, and I'll definitely talk about them in a separate post.
A minority of commenters raised concerns for the author, especially in light of the sheer volume of negativity crashing over her. I believe what they've had to say has tempered the bandwagon/schadenfreude to some extent. Yesterday evening, at least 10 of the Amazon reviews had been deleted (but as of this morning, they have been replaced by others). The rate of the comments has slowed to a trickle. Part of it is that our attention spans are short. Part of it is that I think some folks, once they removed themselves from the frothy feeding frenzy, realized a more measured response might be called for.
Briefly (I know this is long and I'm sorry), here's how I feel about the whole thing.
As an author, I was shocked at the author's behavior. In my opinion, it was unacceptable by any standard. I thought she deserved to hear that her hostile behavior was unacceptable.
As a psychologist, I wanted people to take a step back and ask themselves WHY? Why would this author act out like that? What could be driving her? This book obviously means the world to her; it's an extension of her. And perhaps there are other things going on in her life. Perhaps she was thinking of this as her big chance to make a name for herself. Perhaps it was the one thing in her life over which she felt control. Perhaps it was the only thing she felt good about, proud of. Perhaps it was the slim thread that kept her attached to her self-worth.
I won't be doing any armchair diagnostic evaluation here. I have no idea who this woman is. But when clients come to me or any other mental health professional, there are often regrettable behaviors in their pasts. There are always reasons for it. And if we figure out what those reasons are, we might be able to change things to keep the past from repeating.
I am in no way excusing Jacqueline's behavior. She made a big mistake, and man, is she paying for it. But if we step back and wonder why she behaved that way, we might feel more compassion for her, and maybe that compassion will stay our fleet fingers, for a moment at least, before we press the Post Comment button.
How did you find out about this incident? How did you feel about it? Do you think the behavior justified the response? Do you follow Big Al now (he seems like a fair, thoughtful reviewer, by the way)? Were you like me--a riveted spectator? Or did you comment (it's ok to admit)? If so, what got you going? If not, what held you back? Do you have any other easy examples of The Bandwagon Effect, or any of these other concepts?