11 Dec 2013
Google+ is a strange beast. Is it a social network, a collection of all Google’s services or is it a cult? The truth is probably that it’s a mixture of all three. If you choked on your cornflakes when you read the word cult then read on, where I’ll demonstrate it might not be such an outrageous suggestion. Let’s look at this cult checklist from Janja Lalich, Ph.D. & Michael D. Langone, Ph.D. and see how Google+ stacks up.
The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity). Yes. Google sees itself as special as evidenced with this quote from its ‘What we believe’ statement, “We see being great at something as a starting point, not an endpoint.” It is on a mission to “to facilitate access to information for the entire world, and in every language.”
The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society. Yes. Evidenced by Google’s stance on tax avoidance which is in conflict with wider society.
The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations). Yes. CEO Larry Page is at the top of the pyramid although he is accountable to shareholders.
The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion. Yes. Want to upload or comment on a YouTube video, send a Gmail or write a post on Blogger? Then you’ll be ‘persuaded’ to join Google+.
The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members. Yes. Google are so keen to recruit new members that membership is a requirement even for unrelated Google services. Eg commenting on YouTube videos. (See more examples above).
The group is preoccupied with making money. Yes. Google makes over a $100 million dollars per day. To boost this revenue Google has just announced they are selling the ability to turn Google+ posts into advertisements.
Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities. Yes. Google have linked up their services under Google+ and continue to do so to encourage you to remain ‘on Google’. Google+ coach Ronnie Pincer posted on Google+ on 12 May 2013 that he spends “approx 10+ hours 6 days (maybe 7) a week.”
Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members. Yes. (See above).
The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group. No, although there indeed some Google+ zealots eg Ronnie Pincer (see above).
The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities). No.
Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group. No.
The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law. No.
Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished. No.
Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s). No.
The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth). No.
So out of 15 items on the checklist, Google+ makes a match in more than half of them with a Yes against 8 of the points. Perhaps the idea of Google+ being a cult is not that far fetched after all.
What do you think? Let me know in the Comments below.