“Crowd Psychology” and Political Manipulation: Understanding PTI’s Emotional Contagion

Political Discourse"Crowd Psychology" and Political Manipulation: Understanding PTI's Emotional Contagion

By Shazia Anwer Cheema

PTI’s Secretary General Omer Ayub and party’s spokesman Raoof Hasan called the death of Ammar Abad Farooq, the son of PTI leader Abad Farooq a ‘murder’ that would not go to waste and a revolution would spring from the minor’s death.


They claimed the death was caused by “state oppression” as Ammar developed neurological issues because he was missing his father. Neither Raoof Hassan nor Omar Ayub shared the fact that medical reports of the deceased child indicated a serious and untreatable viral illness/ condition that was dormant since the birth of the deceased child and was triggered recently.
The death of any child is a mournful event and no normal human being can escape the feelings of sorrow while using the death of a child for gaining political mileage can be called nothing but a callous and senseless act.
Seven-year-old Ammar died on September 18, 2023, and his father is awaiting a military trial due to his alleged involvement in the May 9, 2023 failed mutiny against the Pakistan Army.
This unfortunate event is taken as an opportunity again by the PTI’s hatemongering brigade that is manipulating the “Crowd Psychology” to fan hatred against the military and the state looks indecisive on how to handle this sensitive situation.
With the advent of virtual space, the connotation and denotation of Crowd Psychology have also changed and virtual mobbing is more dangerous than physical mobbing the last ten years of data on human lynching shows that most physical lynchings were triggered through instigating crowd psychology virtually.
Crowd Psychology is a subject that studies how a crowd transforms its behavioral patterns and also why an individual’s conduct considerably differs when he/she becomes part of a crowd. By crowd, it is not supposed to be a large gathering but rather a small number of people sharing the common notion of understanding not about life or broader ideology but just minor perception which either gives them temporary relief by lowering the cognitive dissonance or provides some makeshift solutions of their embodied problems.
The crowd’s social concerns are embedded deep in core assumptions, Gustave Le Bon wrote in his book; “The Crowd: A Study of the popular mind” about how crowd psychology operates and why it is dangerous for a civil society.

Gustave Le Bon’s predominant theme of crowd psychology is “loss”. He explains the notion of anonymity by entering into a crowd and that according to him is the most dangerous of all. The loss of identity liberates individuals from social norms, conventions even the idea of crime and punishment because they can no longer access the personal values to judge between appropriate and inappropriate, and consequently submergence and contagion lead the crowd members to lose their civilized standards. Le Bon even says that crowds are destructive.
As Le Bon states crowd mentality is very destructive, we are experiencing in Pakistan where no rational reasoning is accepted and a warlike situation in terms of accusations and curses is predominantly strafing the social media sphere. The” contagion” emotions are key to understanding crowd behavior. One person’s emotion is affected by others. Emile Durkheim and Gustave Le Bon’s interpretation of crowd psychology have been intrigued by collective emotions, like shame, fear, happiness, etc. The collective emotions of a crowd based on the contagion principle create an emotional climate and group emotions. By parsing the available theoretical framework, I agree with the understanding of collective emotions as the “synchronous convergence in affective responding across individuals toward a specific event or object”.

As the PTI crowd is not based on shared values and collective consciousness they are only tied to a single false positive; the Pakistan Army and Pakistan’s economy. In my opinion, they must not be engaged in an argument because they have none, they can only, abuse, curse, and spread hatred

By looking at the PTI crowd what could be their synchronic convergence of emotion and related to what subject or object? Their predominant emotion is hatred and the subject is the Pakistan Army. Crowd’s emotions are contagious,  therefore questioning them being rational lies in the social and Cultural Embeddedness of emotions. To explain it further let’s put it this way, human emotions are grounded in culture and society and can be understood in the following categories:

  • Face-to-face encounters
  • Culture and shared knowledge
  • Identification with a social collective
  • Social appraisal and collective intentions

Virtual social grouping is primarily formalized on the last two factors and the first two face-to-face encounters and shared culture require inhibition into a physical setting. PTI crowd which is comprised of virtual grouping is designed on the principles of “Identification with a social collective and social Appraisal and collective intention”.

The PTI crowd is always in need of new objects to relay their emotions. Today it is child, tomorrow it will be something else, they just need an object/subject to channelize their hatred towards the Pak Army. This is their grand political game

Let me make it further clear. The physical grouping based on personal physical encounters and having shared culture and knowledge is far more dangerous than being on firm ground. The virtual grouping based on emotional relevance and the superficial sense of belonging is less dangerous but creates an atmosphere that gives a sense of chaos. The PTI crowd is short-lived by being connected to each other based on emotional relevance. The maximum age of irrational emotion is comprised of a couple of days up to a couple of months.
The PTI crowd is always in need of new objects to relay their emotions. Today it is child, tomorrow it will be something else, they just need an object/subject to channelize their hatred towards the Pak Army. This is their grand political game.
If it remains few individual personal emotions, it could be of no use so it has to be transformed into contagion emotion to affect the most.
The PTI crowd is prying on the fact that the economic situation of Pakistan is not good and the life of a common citizen is difficult. The misery of layman is the heyday for PTI and its virtual grouping directing the collective emotions to converge into a single emotion of hatred towards a single subject that is Pak-Army.
If it is being considered how their emotional contagion can be disrupted, one needs to work for the economic situation of Pakistan because that is the only thread connecting them as a crowd. As the PTI crowd is not based on shared values and collective consciousness they are only tied to a single false positive; the Pakistan Army and Pakistan’s economy. In my opinion, they must not be engaged in an argument because they have none, they can only, abuse, curse, and spread hatred. One of the solutions to mitigate them is long-term economic policies and better economic conditions for the public. The moment they find themselves deprived of one thread of connecting the general public’s sufferings to their agenda-based hatred they will try to find something else but expecting any rationality is useless on their behalf.
The secret of taming the crowd’s society lies in disrupting the “contagion” of emotions that bond crowd members to one another. The reader may have been thinking where I am leading to? I am not focusing on the endpoint but rather trying to grasp the mechanism of PTI’s behavior in general and their crowd mentality in specific.
The strange perspective is being shared by the PTI crowd of accusing and cursing the Pak Army for the death of the child.

The family of the child is providing emotional proof that his disease was because his father was in jail. Plus, his father was in prison because of the Pak Army; which prompted the academic discussion on whether the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPc) and universal Jurisprudence be reviewed for delinking Crime with Punishment for accused who leave their families behind when they are facing the punishment. Do we need a new Jurisprudence in which any accused who has children must not be considered as an accused because as an accused he or she could be in judicial lockup, could be jailed, could be interrogated, and could be convicted so he or she would be going through the tenure of his sentence in jail? If she or he has children, they (children) can suffer and face psychological trauma, financial upheavals, and even physical or mental illness. Another important question is whether instigating a riot against the state must not be a punishable crime. My questions are based on logic and demand rationality. Instead of rationality, I can only observe extreme emotional derangement and extreme hatred towards Pakistan and the Pakistan Army.
Although the virtual chaos seems unmanageable as I have mentioned earlier that tangible solution for bursting the bubble crowd is dealing with the root cause upon which the PTI crowd emotions are surviving. To my satisfaction, the Pakistan Army has already prioritized basic issues to be tackled first instead of becoming a victim of superficial hatred contagion by the PTI virtual mob. Practical solutions and remedies do not work overnight and they demand patience and endurance what the Pakistan Army is doing. The Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) would bring food to the table and ease the suffering of the common man whose emotions have been pushed towards the Pakistan Army in the form of hatred.

Note: Writer Shazia Anwer Cheema is an author, columnist, and foreign affairs expert who writes for national and international media. She did her M.Phil in Semiotics from Arhus University Denmark and now is a doctoral student and researcher in Semiotics and Philosophy of Communication at Charles University in Prague. She can be reached at her: Twitter @ShaziaAnwerCh Email: shaziaanwer@yahoo.com


The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News Agency.

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