Fake News! Social Media Promotes Herd Mentality

The Lemming Condition (Arkin, 1976) is a children’s book that changed people’s perceptions of the group dynamic and independent thought.

It details the unusual “condition” of the lemming.  In the book, these rodent-like animals run like sheep over the cliff for no apparent reason.  One follows another, to a certain death, with no time for rational thought…Until one day one of them – Bubber – is asked the question of why?  The story is about Bubber as he begins to question for himself why his species does this.  When he realizes he can’t come up with an answer, he decides not to follow the herd.  Independent thought rules the day – great teaching moment for kids.

In reality, lemmings don’t really decide to commit mass suicide every so many years.  But, in 1958, Walt Disney produced a nature documentary called “White Wilderness” showing lemmings throwing themselves off cliffs – most to their deaths.  In 1996, David Mikkelson wrote about this on Snopes http://bit.ly/2zL5mKo and confirmed that producers actually staged these scenes after purchasing countless lemmings from various Inuit children.

White Wilderness (Disney 1958)

For years, this was seen as being the truth because Walt Disney wouldn’t lie, would they?  We see such a strong comparison here with today’s ‘fake news.’  What can happen when something appears on Facebook or any other form of social media that causes an instant reaction?  Do we, as a species always apply critical thinking to all of our actions and reactions, particularly when we’re in a rush to respond before the next person?  I believe that a tool as powerful as social media has a tremendous power for negative and positive behaviour.

We must always filter what we read and say through OUR frame of reference to ensure the media responses we make align with OUR authentic values and codes of conduct.  This takes time and wise stewardship of our own time online.  I am not in favour of over control or overt censorship.  However, we must think first and then act, or we will be like the lemmings running off a cliff and believing Walt Disney’s production.  I believe rational thought will win the day when applied to social media and all other areas of human interaction.

Facebook Post:

How can we have independent thought when so much of social media centers on being part of a collective?  Are we all lemmings as we head toward the cliff along with the herd?


Twitter Post:

When was the last time you researched a post before responding?  Are lemmings fake news? #lemming #fakenews #herdmentality


Works Cited:

Arkin, A. (1976, January 1). The Lemming Condition.

Disney, W. (1958). White Wilderness Part II The Lemmings and Arctic Bird Life.  Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=txI3D1waMfU

Mikkelson, D. (1996, February 27).  Did Disney Fake Lemming Deaths for the Nature Documentary ‘White Wilderness’?  Retrieved from https://www.snopes.com/disney/films/lemmings.asp


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