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Collective Self-Esteem and the Echo Chamber of Online Communities

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

There are many benefits to being part of a group, but the core goals are finding one’s identity and purpose through affiliation and cooperation. According to psychologist Donelson Forsyth, individuals gain acceptance and collective self-esteem from group membership since “ostracism — the deliberate exclusion from groups…is highly stressful and can lead to depression, confused thinking, and even aggression.” While a person’s self-esteem has a definite effect on well-being, collective self-esteem is another component of personal health because the accomplishments of the group foster positive feelings even if a person plays a small role.

Social identity aids in providing a guideline for behaviors and beliefs that are considered acceptable within a social group or society. Researchers of social behavior, Jake Moskowitz and Paul Piff, believe that social trust, commitment, and communication are key factors in group cooperation. While not every person in a group can be trusted to do their share or to confidently commit to elevating the welfare of all within the group, a larger portion of members will still receive the benefits, and noncooperative people may be banished or kept from receiving the same rewards.

Groups can be advantageous over individuals by providing a set of principles to follow for individuals that may feel lost or without a cause. Group cooperation can foster positive personality traits by creating short-term and long-term bonds that can help multiple people succeed in a common goal.

Different Types of Self-Esteem

While self-esteem is expected to have a major effect on a person’s overall health, relational self-esteem or how one relates with family and romantic partners, and collective self-esteem are just as important when it comes to well-being. The research by Du, King, and Chi shows that a higher personal self-esteem results in “greater life satisfaction and purpose in life” while a higher relational self-esteem results in higher levels of each and was likely to result in more positive feelings than personal self-esteem.

The results of their studies also show that collective self-esteem had the least effect on the meaning of life, subjective vitality, life satisfaction, positive affect, and happiness compared to personal self-esteem and relational self-esteem.

It seems that relational self-esteem has the highest amount of influence on a person’s well-being while personal self-esteem follows closely in importance. While collective self-esteem does mildly affect a person’s meaning of life, it does not have the suspected importance that other researchers have mentioned.

Du, King, and Chi explain that this importance varies by culture since it “was positively associated with well-being among White, Black, and Asian college students in the United States; however, when controlling for PSE, the relationship of CSE with well-being became nonsignificant for Whites, small for Blacks, and moderate to strong for Asians.” Larger or less personal social groups that are connected to collective self-esteem are not as vital to a person’s life as much as smaller groups that are connected to relational self-esteem.

Adolescent Group Affiliations

I stopped being an active member of most “extra” or “optional” types of groups since I was in mid-adolescence, overall, so many of my group memberships as an adult have been either short-term or dispassionate by comparison with minimal participation. Some groups can be forced upon a person while others happen by more random circumstances, and while each of those situations can result in positive associates, I believe that group associations that happen by choice are the most ideal.

A memorable group that I have been a part of, not by choice, was the classmates I had since kindergarten through senior year of secondary school. Since I was educated in a rural town, I had many of the same classmates over the years, and while some joined at varying points, I had to socialize with many for several years at a time, often. Cliques or smaller groups formed within my class, but I felt there was still an overall sense of social identity, and we had our own quirks in comparison to other classes.

There were several conflicts that were occasional or recurring, and they had a tendency to involve specific individuals who violated the group principles or the same few people who disagreed with each other. The needs that were met from being a part of the group were acceptance and collective self-esteem which we promoted through the sense of affiliation and cooperation. I was one of the few who regularly pushed boundaries for irrational or experimental reasons, but I cooperated enough, had enough history with the others, and showed a decent amount of agreeableness that I was not blacklisted.

Source: Author

Disadvantages of Groups

Individuals become members of a group through mutual acceptance, which has many advantages, yet a gathering of people can result in disadvantages such as social loafing and the common knowledge effect. According to Donelson Forsyth, there are five stages of group development where the first is forming, the second is storming, the third is norming, the fourth is performing, and the fifth is adjourning.

Forming involves early exchanges meant to learn as much as possible between group and individual while storming involves conflict between members for the leadership of the group. Norming involves the creation of group norms and principles for a smoother operation while performing involves behaviors that complete any group goals that were selected. Adjourning involves final resolutions as each group members breaks away from the group.

Social loafing is a result of reduced effort in participation among members of the group because of a belief such as “someone else will figure it out” or because a person may believe that the others will not notice.

The common knowledge effect is a tendency for group members to focus on the information that they each already know or prefer to talk about — instead of considering beneficial ideas and beliefs that are less popular within the group, and a single or few members of the group may worry about mentioning something that may be easily refused by the others. While the goal is to produce something as a group, some members will cause enough conflict that a group will accomplish the minimal or break apart the group at an early stage.

Groupthink and Polarization

Groupthink and group polarization results in many problems related to illogical beliefs and decisions within groups. Groupthink occurs when the member of a group fails to correct a wrong or add an innovative idea because one fears they will upset the group and possibly be ignored by the others. Donelson Forsyth also states that the four factors that lead to groupthink are cohesion, isolation, biased leadership, and decisional stress.

Cohesion involves extreme conformity among group members while isolation involves avoiding association with anyone other than group members. Biased leadership involves having an authoritarian group leader who will make decisions with minimal protest from other group members even if the leader is wrong. According to Donelson Forsyth, decisional stress involves making quick decisions with a lack of rational debate with results related to how “group members can rationalize their choice by exaggerating the positive consequences, minimizing the possibility of negative outcomes, concentrating on minor details, and overlooking larger issues.”

Group polarization is likely to take place within groups because if group members continue to discuss a specific opinion, it will only continue to promote that bias instead of allowing for the difference of opinion.

Groupthink and group polarization results in what may be popularly known as societal “sheeple,” “intellectual zombies,” or “the walking braindead” because the individuals of a group lack the confidence or influence to mention unknown facts or helpful ideas that can benefit the welfare of the group.

Echo Chamber

According to the research by Del Vicario et al., group polarization on social media platforms, such as Facebook, is caused by people that post and comment regularly with negative ideas and beliefs. In fact, polarization is driven by emotional instability where individuals are easily triggered by opposing beliefs.

The article by Del Vicario et al. shows that social media platforms become echo chambers for conspiracy theories and unfounded beliefs because “information, concepts, and debate get flattened and oversimplified” while regular use among others with similar beliefs will further validate the views of people who refuse to search for opposing opinions.

It is more tempting to resort to negative thinking and emotions because many others are doing the same, and this increases negative feelings with continued participation. Social media consumers that minimize the time that is spent scrolling through the opinions and updates of other are less likely to have negative moods — or, at least, these feelings are less likely to last as long because they are less likely to comment.

It is best to avoid active participation because it results in members that are “focused on a particular topic, and their increasing involvement into highly specified topics makes them ‘isolated’ from the neighboring environment, which in this case is the whole world of knowledge.”

Social Loafing

I have always had problems with social loafing in groups because, even if I was going through a phase of rebellion when I was younger, I could not help but feel invested in the creative projects I was forced to be a part of when in school. Of course, it would be false to not admit when I have been the social loafer — it generally happens occasionally and especially when I am unable to express my ideas or passions.

While some social loafers my only be lazy or legitimately do not care about details in any way, including self-respect, I do believe that many people exhibit behaviors like social loafing because their creativity or intellect isn’t being challenged enough.

As for other negative behaviors, such as group polarization and groupthink, I think that the internet makes it easy to promote extreme ideas of any kind which can reach countless people throughout the world so that “massive digital misinformation remains one of the main threats to our society.” As people turn more towards online friendships and groups on social media platforms to fill in a missing void in their lives, they are more likely to find themselves more isolated and depressed since “more active users show a faster shift towards the negativity than less active ones.”

It makes me wonder if people shouldn’t be warned about the risks of not being connected with local friends and community members than those found randomly, even anonymously, who may be more fiend than friend.

Team Roles

I think it makes sense to consider one’s position in a group, and Belbin’s Team Roles attempts to explain why some teams may succeed faster or result in less conflict. I see myself as a Plant since I am creative and absentminded which does create communication conflict. Sometimes, I may become more of a Complete Finisher because I can be perfectionistic and anxious about the final projects since I am fine with a somewhat disorganized beginning and middle, but the end result has to be “perfect.”

Occasionally, I may show signs of the Monitor Evaluator and Shaper in certain groups where I believe those qualities are lacking, but I definitely fulfil the descriptions of the Plant and Complete Finisher, far more.

I think it’s interesting that the Belbin website mentions that “However, not all are always required at the same time — it is important to first look at the team objectives, and work out which tasks need to be undertaken.” That explains why I always felt that some groups had something different than others, yet they were still able to have similar results.

I think I need to look for groups where others do more of the leading, yet certain rules can be bent so that the focus is on the final result rather than details — especially early on. I think I may be okay mainly among Resource Investigators, Teamworkers, and Shapers for most of the work and hobbies I’m currently involved in, but I am sure I would eventually need to trade them out for the other personality types if anything changed.

I have realized that I need to be around other group members that are willing to dwell into random ideas and possibilities without feeling restricted. Also, while I can be passionate in many ways, I am particular about my interests, and I need someone to force me to complete the things that disinterest me. The Belbin roles remind me of the Enneagram when it comes to personality typing since there are nine types, as well. This is an efficient way to figure out grouping and how to associate with others.

Source: Author

Pill-Poppers

I am a person with deeply held personal values that I will not budge on, and I am also prone to minor and moderate levels of rebellious actions and opposing opinions. This influences my group associations because I have a tendency to “accidentally” become part of a group rather than looking for membership. The more recent group I have been a distant yet active participant of the Red Pill movement as it relates to willing female members on the internet.

Without having to go into detail about my beliefs, I can mention that I have noticed countless examples of groupthink among my own kind, and I see it among the polar opposite, or the Blue Pill movement, and the other side groups such as those that follow White Pill, Black Pill, Purple Pill, Green Pill, etc., social movements of the online world.

While people are told they are free to disagree, that is mostly untrue because dissent of any kind results in public verbal castigation. I rather not associate with too many people that I disagree with, as well, since sooner or later, there rises a subject that results in my bluntness and usual honesty, and I am ostracized. Besides the fact that the former is part of my original personality, I do feel compelled to be more aggressive with my stances because I am generally met with a condescending attitude from those who may feel that I am too “this” or not enough of “that.”

It further pushes me into isolation and confirms my biases against many of the ideas that some of the other movements hold which results in the continuation of groupthink for me and for many others — a cycle of extreme disagreement.

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Jacquline Ard (Ontiveros)

Jacquline Ard (Ontiveros)

“It is the chiefest point of happiness that a man is willing to be what he is.” ~Erasmus | www.ardpro.us/

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