by Andrew Orlowski
Wednesday, 5
January 2022

‘Mass formation psychosis’ gets a warning from Google

Robert Malone's mentioned it on Joe Rogan — so the search engine acted
by Andrew Orlowski
Robert Malone’s (L) interview with Joe Rogan was taken down by YouTube this week

Many more people turn to Google for information about the world than use Twitter, so when Google censors ideas, the societal impact is potentially very wide reaching. Last week one specific search term drew a speedy and surprising response from the search giant.

“It looks like these results are changing quickly,” a notice explained. “If this topic is new, it can sometimes take time for results to be added by reliable sources.”

The term is “mass formation psychosis”, a description of collective hysteria, and it had gained a sudden spike in popularity and searches after a talk by a Belgian academic discussing the phenomenon was promoted by anti-vaxxer Robert Malone in an appearance on the Joe Rogan show (which YouTube has since deleted).

Searches for a well-known concept yielded no results after it was promoted by Robert Malone

According to Professor Mattias Desmet of the psychology faculty at Ghent University, whose talk was extensively discussed by Rogan and Malone, a generalised sense of anxiety leaves a population in a hypnotic state, vulnerable to suggestion. It isn’t a new idea. Mass formation draws on work by the 19th century writer Gustave Bon, commonly credited as the father of crowd psychology. Le Bon was avidly read by Lenin, Hitler and Mussolini, and became a huge influence on Louis Bernays, Freud’s nephew and the inventor of modern public relations.

Talking about mass formation seems to be a freelance venture by Professor Desmet, whose published work focuses on psychotherapy for the individual, not social psychology. But it is not hard to see why it was seized upon by a spectrum of people broadly opposed to pandemic interventions, ranging at its extremes to conspiracy theorists (before Malone promoted it, it had been aired on a number of podcasts).

Besides the very obvious point that Google is editorialising, and therefore imperilling its safe harbour privileges — a point frequently made by former President Donald Trump — this latest intervention raises two questions.

You may think, as I do, that using individual psychological explanations to account for the behaviour of a crowd is a fundamental category error: a crowd is not a person. By attributing a condition such as hypnosis to the population, the individual’s internal motivations are brushed aside. But social psychology, for all its flaws, has been an influential field of enquiry.

In fact, studying how communications media can be used to totalitarian ends used to be a prime liberal concern. It was the motivation behind the establishment of the Radio Research Project in the 1930s by the Rockefeller Foundation. Hitler had risen to power through radio, using it to hypnotic effect, so the project invited researchers to consider the role played by new media, and how Hitler had exploited it.

But the intervention begs a more intriguing question – now that certain concepts need L-plates, where does this end? Google was prompted to qualify its results after a concept was promoted by a popular conspiracy theorist. So if Piers Corbyn now offers an opinion on the Nash Equilibrium, or the teaching of phonics, will the search terms for these ideas also get the plates? For consistency, they should. We shall see.

Join the discussion

  • There should not be this censorship, but more importantly, these notions of “mass psychosis” or “mass formation” reflect profound ignorance about psychology.
    Years ago it was well-recognised that there is something called authoritarianism, and authoritarian mentality. There have been whole books about this. And associated with it is the delusion that we have meritocracy.
    The present situation was fully explained already in my book Experts Catastrophe before this Covid even began.
    But first some facts. These silly new ideas are DISPROVEN by the FACTS. The very firm observation is that there is very high belief in the Covophobia among posh “educated” people, and there is high disbelief among the non-posh non-“educated”. And that is the opposite of these silly “mass” theorists’ predictions. It is the people who are most comfortably in society who are the most Covophobic.
    Coming now to authoritarianism, we all have to to an extent just rely on trusting our “superiors”. We don’t have time to research and question everything. So a level of unquestioning authoritarian mentality has evolved in us We all learn from the Bigger People – our parents, teachers, lecturers, professors. THIS is the brainwashing.
    The exams system strongly rewards mindless authoritarianist parroting of “expertise”. “Earning” of qualifications acts as a biasing bribe adding to the delusion of a meritocracy.
    Meanwhile there is huge disbelief among dark-skinned people because they are constantly bombarded with a message that they are victims of an inverted meritocracy (of “institutional racism”). So either that’s true and therefore there’s no meritocracy, OR it’s untrue and all the media are lying to the dark-skinned people hence again no honest meritocracy.
    The popularity of this “mass” nonsense is itself a reflection of the gross incompetence of an academia which has forgotten most of what it had learnt only 50 years ago. I recommend books by Kreml and Eysenck for some more competent info, plus my own (pre-Covid) “Experts Catastrophe” for which I will add a link in a reply here.
    Cheers, Robin P Clarke, someone who has actually STUDIED both psychology and medical charlatanism for many years, rather than become an instant expert the last year or two.

  • LOL. And the next step is to save you from eating animal proteins, sugary drinks and overconsuming electricity.

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