Internet Mob Behavior
When the Hamza Kashgari fiasco happened, everything I feared about the Saudi society's judgment returned in folds. As if all the years of public writing and living in exile hasn't taught me a thing about trusting the anonymous crowd. If I had been thinking about writing to an Arab audience, reading about Hamzah being sent to prison over mere tweets, sealed my mouth and fingers silent.
Much to my horror, about a week after Hamza’s fiasco, my brother released the first episode of Takki. I spent the night watching the timeline for any bursts of hashtagging. Nothing bad happened to my brother or any of the crew and actors involved. In fact, as far as I know, they're doing swimmingly even under the judgmental eyes of the Saudi public.
How my brother survived the Saudi mob's attention, while Hamza and Firas did not, I was yet to understand. And it was going to take me a whole year to figure out the right keywords to google that phenomenon.
About a week ago, there was another gossip fiasco in the Saudi twitosphere: A man was photographed sharing a table with an uncovered woman. The hashtag to that translates as #MisterX'sScandal. It grabbed my attention because there was nothing scandalous about a man being in public with his uncovered wife. That it got blown up was what really took me aback.
Is the Saudi society really, really that sick?
Pause. Process. Project.
Now, the thing that mobs have in common, whether online or on the streets, is that they both represent the society at its most extreme state.
Society, whether we like it or not, is a responsive, adaptive and smart organism that behaves as naturally as an individual would given in the same situation. But smarter and, considering its size, more forceful. The mob, or crowd, or society in general, as a single unit, is accurate in its unanimous decisions.
Take, for instance, in Hamza Kashgari's case. Hamza had been poking around the lines of propriety for a while in his columns before he tweeted his doom. The way the mob behaved in response to his tweets were as natural as a pissed off child’s response to a beloved parent being publicly disrespected. I would have at least shunned if a man treated my master with disrespect. And if I weren't such a passivist I would have butchered his entire family too.
Similarly, looking closer into #MisterX'sScandal, I found out that Mister X was not just an innocent bystander being runned down by a bored, scandal-craving mob. A background check on Mister X revealed that he has been a mouthful bitch. And his mouth has offered nothing but vehement spitting upon everything it came across. So much that even his mates gave up on him.
In both Hamza and Mister X's sudden hashtagging, the mob was forced to respond. It was prodded and poked until it grabbed the first slip of tongue to retaliate so forcefully. The same response, I think I would have given if I were in the position to do something about it.
The Other Side of Mob Behavior
Whatever got me worried for so long about the mob’s behavior also blotted out the qualities that I might have liked about it too.
Again, since the mob is a smart organism, it would not exert its powers only in attack modes. It will also protect its interests and create amazing things. Such as the random acts of kindness during natural disasters. The millions of worshippers in mosques, churches and synagogues saying Amen in one voice, every day. And every time a mufti releases a stupid fatwa, or a politician is caught abusing his powers, the mob will protest and reassert its powers to create change.
That is democracy, the united opinion of the mob, in its simplest and most natural form.
So, it's not that one society is sick or that another society is better. That is a tired claim. Every society has its cultural quirks and points of outdated customs. But if you look closer, the things that we, as individuals, might dislike about a society, could be the very things that has kept that society from crumbling down to the ground, with you and I and the people we love and protect along with it.