Millennial Voices

When Herd Behaviour Turns A Good Sheep Bad

For as long as I remember, we have always been called sheep. From being called sheep for travelling to ‘mainstream’ places to the many times we were called sheep for ‘blindly following our political leaders’.

Singaporeans have been branded sheep on so many occasions that most of us are already numb to the name. And as much as we try to deny it, we really are all sheep.

It isn’t because of our education system or the Chinese zodiac as much as it is human nature. The herd behavior is just our intrinsic need to feel harmonious with our fellow human species. It’s the same reason why animals form herds to protect themselves from danger or predators – strength in numbers.

It happens in our everyday lives. When we see long queues at shops, we kay poh. When we see the latest trends, we follow. It’s so normal that we hardly think about it anymore. And herd instinct is somewhat beneficial as it acts as a guide to how we lead our lives.

We compare, and we use the actions and behaviours of others as a reference. We adopt our favourite idols’ lifestyles. Likewise, we steer away from people we deem less than desirable and remind ourselves not to be like them. Also, there’s the mentality behind rating systems: if 90% voted a movie or restaurant to be 10 out of 10, it must be good.

However, blindly following the herd is not always healthy. Sometimes, it can be the exact opposite.

Toxic Herd Behaviour Is All Around Us

All it takes is for a dominant alpha and a prey, and you’ll soon see it grow into a mob bullying situation. In fact, dig deeper behind the reasons for many bullying cases and you’ll see that herd behaviour is a big driving force.

Take for example the $10 BMW driver, who was harassed by netizens after being wrongly accused of making an attendant pay for his petrol. And Cherry Tan, who was wrongly identified for bullying an elderly man at a hawker centre.

Image Credit: Willie Kok Heng Chua

The $10 BMW driver’s demise started because the original poster told only her side of the story and it tugged enough at our heartstrings for us to immediately hate on the driver. It didn’t matter that the story came from a third party. And all it took for Cherry Tan was one comment wrongly identifying her.

Hardly anyone bothered to do more research or wonder about what really happened, because it is just so much easier to join in the crowd, agree, and hate together.

It was only after the whole world condemned them to the depths of hell that they were cleared of the allegations. So many people had already jumped on the hate-wagon by then, and the damages of name calling, harassment, and even calls to boycott their companies were already dealt.

More recently, a video of a bus driver seemingly nodding off while driving has been circulating online. While there were people who were genuinely worried about the driver’s well-being, there were also many others who called him out for endangering the lives of people.

Image Credit: Darius Chan’s video

SBS Transit has since explained that the driver’s questionable driving was merely because of a neck condition. Even then, I was still seeing people sharing the video and commenting about how reckless or terrible it is for the driver to be sleeping on the job.

Even if the driver was really falling asleep, wouldn’t it be wiser to talk to him, keep him awake, and ask if he was facing any problems? I question the poster’s intention of filming the driver and exposing it online instead. Also, if the intention was to call for a more stringent selection of safer bus drivers, is it not more productive to talk to SBS Transit and find out the problem?

By posting the video online and insinuating that the driver is falling asleep on the job, one is merely creating opportunities to sow hate.

These are all unfortunate cases of internet CSI or internet policing gone wrong, but the underlying issue is an entire toxic, mob bullying culture that’s rampant not just online, but in our everyday lives.

Mob Bullying

It happens in school. The shunning of the ‘fatty bom bom’ when forming teams in PE lessons. The name calling. The spreading of rumours of that ah lian having slept with countless boys. These are things we have all heard or experienced growing up.

It happens in the working world. The abusive boss or politics-mongering colleague are perfect examples of bullying. It could even be as simple as gossiping or ostacising.

In case it sounds like I am some self-righteous person trying to preach a politically correct stance towards a perfect, everyone loves everyone world, let me declare that I don’t believe in that. Especially when gossiping (or ranting) is one of the ways I destress from a crazy work day.

What I find extremely repulsive and disheartening is when idle gossip turns into mob bullying because of the herd mentality. Like the cases online, all it takes is one bully to rally a group of bullies. And such cases are often overlooked because of how common it is. Singapore has even won the title of the third highest rate of bullying globally.

Image Credit: CareerBuilder


In my line of work, I have met so many millennials who have experienced a form of bullying growing up. The mocking, the being made fun of, the name calling, and the ostracising may sound trivial, but the impact is significant for the victims and is often the fuel for depression.

I’ve also witnessed situations of mob bullying having unfair, negative impact on the victim: where the victim was baited to saying things that would be used for ridicule and where the rallying of hate within the group of bullies eventually contributed to the victim’s departure. And all those because the victim is just a little different from the rest. It didn’t matter that the victim hasn’t done anything to insult of harm anyone or on purpose.

It is one thing to idle gossip and another to treat someone like they are not worthy of a presence, even turning it into spiteful curses.

While this are just my observations, I am pretty sure that similar cases have been happening in work places or social circles everywhere. After all, nothing like bonding over mutual hate, and herd behaviour to propagate the hate.

Stop Being A Mean Sheep

As someone who is guilty of having been part of a mob bullying before, I know how easy it is to be part of the herd and I know how hard it is not to join in on the laughing. However, such damaging herd behaviour has got to stop. Unless we stop being sheeps, do our research, and form our independent opinions, the mob bullying will continue.

Also, my dance teacher once taught me: to tell the quality of a dance troupe, look at the dancer at the last row of the performance. Similarly, I see the way someone treats the ‘most insignificant person to them’ as a reflection of who they really are.

So, before you join in on the teasing next time, think about why you are doing it and what it reflects of you. What do you want to be a reflection of?

(Header Image Credit: Medium)

Also read, Sexual Harassment Not That Unusual – S’porean Girls Reveal Their Nasty Encounters With Perverts.

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