Hello, reader. You may have come to this article in order to find out what “Mass Formation Psychosis” is, after seeing this viral clip of Dr Robert Malone, MD on Joe Rogan:
Welcome, Unwitting Internet Person.
Welcome. I hope you’re doing okay. Shit’s crazy, hey. It feels as though everyone around you has lost their minds a bit, doesn’t it?
I want you to know that it isn’t just you that has noticed, and it is definitely happening. Just, it’s not happening quite in the way you’d think. There’s definitely a bunch of complex explanations for why people are being so weird: trauma, grief, fear. Resulting in a never-ending feeling that you are being fucked with, but can’t fully articulate how, what, why or by whom.
That’s because you are being fucked with. But it isn’t “them”. You know. Whatever the “them” is that probably got you clicking on this article in the first place.
It isn’t you, either. You’re actually fine. I hope you stick around long enough to hear me out.
With any luck, and if I have optimised this properly, you should have searched or stumbled on this article having searched for “What is mass formation psychosis?” on Duck Duck Go or Google. After I hit Publish, though, I know the chances of you finding this organically are pretty low, despite “mass formation psychosis” being an obscure term with low competition up until a week ago.
You may notice that this article is keyword-optimised for that term.
Do you know why it likely won’t get seen?
There’s a whole bunch of people (and 🇺🇸 bots) at the ready to tell you that it is some huge conspiracy to silence “conservative voices”, or “people who question the vaccine”, or whatever slogan du jour there is on the list this week.
Well, as someone who has worked in digital strategy and run online campaigns for two decades, let me tell you what is actually happening.
What is “Mass Formation Psychosis”?
Who the fuck knows? I’m sure it’s a thing, among the dusty books of those who worship the Greco-Romans and love pulling out obscure words, stripping problems of context and drag us all into tedious quibbles 24/7 on Twitter. It’s pretty niche for something that is pretty well established in social psychology under other names. To be honest, your takeaway should be that it doesn’t really matter what it is, but because you probably came here searching for the definition of “mass formation psychosis” and I don’t want to be accused of clickbaiting (other than to make my point), here you go.
There are many other, more mainstream concepts that better define this phenomenon that Dr Malone is claiming happened in Nazi Germany:
- Mass Psychogenic Illness/Mass Hysteria
- Moral Panic
- Attribution Errors
- Diffusion of Responsibility
- Folie à deux
- Thought Reform
There has been substantial research into the rise of fascism, especially in Nazi Germany and, more broadly, the psychology of totalitarianism (which is also one theory of many… there is never one catch-all term for any complex problem). In fact, pretty much the entire discipline of social and political psychology to date has been dedicated to the question of “how on earth did that happen?”. Milgram. Ash. Lifton. Arendt. Some research it to prevent it happening again.
Others, to make sure they get away with it.
I’ve recommended this book to gain better understanding of how fascism works politically. But, it is an important side-note to state that what happened in Nazi Germany was not a mass psychosis. The reason this fact is so fascinating to social psychologists is because it was actually completely rational, in the humans-are-vulnerable sense. What is left out in the United States politico-media-complex was that it was also the result of an unholy alliance between traditional conservatives and the Nazis, who formed said alliance based on their shared hatred of socialists and a moral panic over Communism.
Now, this is not an article about the details of Nazi Germany or about the pros and cons of theoretical economic frameworks. There is always so much to address when commenting on these culture wars topics (this is by design… a deliberate tactic to drag you into haggling over details rather than arguing the bigger political picture).
I am also not going to do anything to question or discredit Dr Malone, as such. If anything I believe that most of the people that are propped up and used in this ecosystem (Rogan included) are as oblivious as everyone else. Debunking scientists is really not something I care about or am qualified to do. But what I am qualified to talk about is how this “Mass Formation Psychosis” debacle is a perfect example of how the United States far right use long tail SEO and a media ecosystem of unwitting participants to peddle… well… bullshit… and coax you into a funnel that bypasses any opposing viewpoints, and where you can be nudged and radicalised and within a few short months be led to believe that Critical Theory and “the left” are bringing about the end of Western Civilisation.
And ultimately, keep falling on their own sword because the thing they demonise (socialist analysis) is the shoe that fits, and the culprit is the thing they benefit from (capitalism).
The ‘IDW’ can never say the C word, and this is how we get here.
These problems are easily explained when you do a critique of capitalism, or understand the complex set of factors that led to the Holocaust. Unfortunately for the rest of us, a lifetime of propaganda and a political culture whose inclination it is to oversimplify, exploit and commodify and then prop up televangelists who blame that on a moral failing of individuals or groups, well, you can see how this all lands in one big Dunning-Kruger, pro-capitalist cope.
If you know your history about Nazi Germany, anti-communism and red scares were a significant factor. Not “mass formation psychosis”. It was a working class whose revolutionary rage was misdirected and exploited in an unholy anti-communist alliance. Sound familiar? But the details of this are another red herring that will no doubt be explained to me at length by men who know better, so I will move on.
Also, dudes, don’t do that. It’s annoying and if you waste my time, I’ll send you an invoice. As a socialist, I own my own labour and charge what I want. You know: a free market. Capitalism means you feel the right to exploit my time and labour without having to pay for it. Nope.
But, what is “Mass Formation Psychosis” …really?
Why use this specific phrase, when there are so many others that can be used and more readily understood? There is vast literature on the political psychology of the Holocaust. The Holocaust happened pretty much exactly the same way the United States war machine works today: the banality of evil, siloing, alienation/atomisation, outgrouping and… well… the diffusion of responsibility that comes from a middle class, middle management desk job.
There is also vast literature on Holocaust denialism and how the United States have rewritten large parts of that history in their own favour. Again, fucking distractions and tangents. Ugh.
So anyway, I saw the clip. Standard stuff. I saw Malone had been banned. Honestly, I wasn’t all that interested. But, also I saw the machine that I am all too familiar with go to work, doing what it does. Astroturfing with MAGA bots. The ecosystem of useful idiots and good people amplifying outrage. The Wokies doing what the Wokies do and the MAGAs doing what the MAGAs do in their sick for-profit symbiosis that closely resembles a crackhead marriage.
Like a crackhead marriage, it gets dull after a while and you just close your blinds and let them get on with it.
Then, I saw that Google was suppressing it.
One thing that has bugged me for a long time with the Anti-Woke, #WalkAway, #exLiberal online-political-commentator crew, is how they drill down into semantics, narrow definitions and distractions that even someone who knows a lot would have to look up in order to debate.
They’ll take some random philosopher or concept, and then throw you off point because you’re trying to recall this tangentially related thing. This makes it look like they won, because you weren’t able to recall a narrow barely-related concept in a whole body of literature and study. This has happened a few times when I have interviewed people (side point: it is why I decided to not do ‘debates’ and be used as a prop.).
After having DESTROYED their opponent with LOGIC and FACTS (rather than simply bewildering you at how aggressively stupid they are), they look like the better expert and… then comes the oversimplified. heavily loaded “checklist” married to whatever silliness they’re trying to sell you.
With a series of nudges that has you losing your kidney:
Anyway, I was always a bit perplexed by this tactic, and wrote it off to stupidity and sloganeering, until this week, when I saw Google suppressing the term “mass formation psychosis”, and then saw the “uncensored” results on DuckDuckGo:
Long Tail SEO
What is Long Tail SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)?
Let’s say you sell widgets in London, in a fairly competitive market. People will search for “widgets london” and expect to see relevant results (the amount of searches per day is called “volume”). Now, imagine Amazon also sells widgets in London, as well as Apple and Sony, plus a bunch of other bigger businesses. You, the small business owner, only have a few thousand dollars to spend per month vs their massive budgets.
So, what do you do? You sell on lower volume keywords that are more niche, that aren’t dominated by the bigger players. You write blog posts and articles and reviews on specific brands of widgets. Fewer people search, but you can dominate that search term because the bigger guys aren’t investing in it.
All you really need to know is that posts and pages are optimised so that when someone searches for a certain keyword, yours will show up. This is why I found it curious that “mass formation psychosis” was the term used, and not the established terms. But now I know why.
Those terms are dominated by mainstream sources on the first pages of Google.
You’ll see that when you use DuckDuckGo to search “mass formation psychosis”, you get Malone’s Substack and then a whole bunch of articles. Now, unless you know what you’re looking at, you’ll think this is just benign list of media sources, like any other. However, if you actually click on them (in my case I already know of them), you’ll see that there are a whole bunch of US Right Wing Propaganda outlets dominating the first page. No dictionary. Not even urban dictionary. No Wikipedia. No .edu. No Psychology Today.
This is the tactic. Long Tail.
What I initially thought was just douchebags being idiots, is a deliberate and methodical attempt to get you looking up slogans, concepts and keywords that those who are running the campaign want to control.
Let me qualify this again and say that everyone does this – which is why I focus on the tactics and unethical practices. There is an information war happening.
That weird itchy thing you’re feeling, that you are being fucked with? This is why you feel it. Not because of some imagined other, but because you are literally having your head scrambled with competing propaganda because of a war over the space between your ears.
Let me qualify something else: this is not a conspiracy theory. I don’t know if Malone knows about it, or whether these campaigns just prop him up for their own nefarious purposes and he is conveniently just using a long tail term. But all I see is a mention of an unknown concept, with a whole bunch of very recent long tail propaganda content, designed to scare you and get you – with that weird feeling that you’re being messed with that is 100% correct – on a radicalisation funnel. The direction of that funnel doesn’t matter – just know it is always happening and you have to be vigilant, and walk a delicate line between healthy critical reading of authoritative and credible sources and bypassing them altogether.
How it’s done
If you wanted to hijack people’s critical thinking on an issue, you would first create a long tail term, such as “mass formation psychosis”. Then, using a network of “media” that backlink to each other, you publish a series of articles to create authority for that term.
Then, if it is mentioned on a large platform – say like Joe Rogan – you drive traffic to search the obscure term “mass formation psychosis”. Which, is obscure, even though the bros on Twitter will pretend you’re stupid for not knowing what it is. See above red herring debate tactic.
Why Malone didn’t refer to mainstream concepts would be conjecture on my part. But I will assume that, like many other American MDs in a culture of MD Gurus, a “borrowed coined term for an established concept”, is easily manipulated and used in this way. The main point of curiosity for me is that Malone could have used mainstream social psychology concepts to describe the same phenomenon, especially to be easily understood on such a big platform. It’s… curious.
But you can’t get people’s traffic into your funnel if there’s competition.
What this does is it bypasses any mainstream intervention in that funnel. You are at the top of said funnel every time you search. Heck, reading me, right now, you’re on a funnel of sorts to get you to become a Patron. Wink.
But, know that with a funnel, the expectation is that not everyone will share it, but enough will with the right nudges. Most people will click away on the more outrageous stuff, or read it for a second and close, but if they are already vulnerable, and angry, enough people will read it, be persuaded, and start sharing it with other vulnerable and angry people (we know they tend to cluster).
A war over the territory in your brain.
So, watch the Charlie the Unicorn video. Or, you can watch my longer stream on this if you like.
What you need to understand is that pretty much every marketer – including the bad guys – are using these tactics against you, and there is a constant battle in the media and online to get you onto a funnel so you can be nudged in whichever direction is most persuasive. With no mind for the impact, or the outcome.
You are constantly a persuadable in the nudging war where they tell you it’s “them”. It’s not “them”.
This is all a race to be the first point of contact, the first source when people search, so you can be nudged and converted for whatever conversion metric has been set.
Politically, even if we are outside of it, we are all being recruited as soldiers in a war between two warring factions of the far right in a trigger happy, failing empire: the United States.
Remember, the Democrats and the Republicans agree on far more than they disagree on when it comes to policy, and you must remember that Nazi Germany did not come from a mass psychosis, but an unholy, cynical, conscious and rational alliance of shared interests and the anger and confusion that made people vulnerable to their own perfectly normal psychology.
Top of Funnel
I don’t want to introduce too many concepts, but once you understand how a funnel works, understand that you are a lead. A mark. And if you have any influence, you are most definitely useful to everyone in this war. Astroturfing is not just Twitter bots and troll farms – this digital strategy is incredibly sophisticated and complex – not to mention extremely well funded.
This is not a “far right funding” boogeyman. This is someone who has worked in this space and knows what things cost. And I know what they’re doing.
I have gone to pains to qualify that I am merely pointing out the tactics here, and using Malone as a glaring example of fuckery. It would be a pretty big leap to suggest that it is a conspiracy, and that Joe Rogan is in on it. How much he knows about this, is anyone’s guess.
If anything, I think the phrase “there are no allies, only interests” applies here.
This is a pervasive industry-wide tactic, and is used everywhere from a small business selling widgets in London, to billionaire-funded propagandists who want to destroy and undermine their political opponents, and form unholy alliances with those who want to do the same, with zero considerations for human cost.
There is only one parallel with Nazi Germany that is real: the apparent crumbling of the United States and the chaos (and resulting crossfire) that is causing people to be so afraid of their neighbours, so afraid of their government, so lacking in trust and economic stability… that they may well act completely rationally.
That’s the bit that should terrify you.