The University of Alabama

Online Doomsday Groups to Spike

For the 31st consecutive year, The University of Alabama’s Office of Media Relations offers predictions from faculty experts for the coming year.

Warnings about apocalyptic cataclysms in 2012 potentially will serve as a catalyst for Internet hysteria, a University of Alabama psychology professor predicts.

According to some scholars, the ancient Mayan calendar predicts the world will end in 2012. Figures in popular culture and the Internet are taking this prediction seriously. The recent film “2012,” for example, depicts a series of worldwide cataclysmic earthquakes, tidal waves and volcanic eruptions that wipe out the human population.

If enough people on the Internet take these predictions seriously and spread messages of doom, the result could be panic on the level of the Y2K scare of 1999, says Dr. Rosanna Guadagno, assistant professor of psychology.

“We’re going to see a lot of doomsday groups grow online,” says Guadagno, an Internet scholar. “If one of them gets big enough, we’ll see hysteria spreading over the Internet. Then we’ll see the kind of crazy things some people were doing on New Year’s Eve in 1999.”

Guadagno suggests that Internet interest in the predicted apocalypse might reach a “tipping point.” Internet chatter may get people so revved up about the oncoming apocalypse that hysteria will ensue. But it may take only a few people to get the panic rolling.

“It could be a small group of people engineering it,” she says. “But if they get vocal enough and loud enough, other people will pick up on the messages and pass on the hysteria.”

The hysteria may become so loud that the messages drown out more reasonable voices.

“Common sense does not spread on Internet as quickly as nonsense,” Guadagno says. “There may be a backlash against the predictions, but it may not be heard.”

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.

  • CONTACT: UA Media Relations, 205/348-5320
  • SOURCE: Dr. Rosanna Guadagno, Rosanna@ua.edu, 205/348-7803 (e-mail preferred)