The year is 1937, and Joseph Stalin has just given a great speech.
The crowd gets up and starts clapping with thunderous applause. A minute passes, and the claps are still going. Three minutes pass. Five minutes pass. The applause is as loud as ever. Ten minutes pass, and it’s still going.
What is happening here?
No one wants to be the first to stop clapping for Comrade Stalin, because they’re scared that they’ll be seen as disloyal and disrespectful to the party. And being disloyal to the party means getting arrested at best, and getting executed at worse.
Everyone knows this is ridiculous, but no one is willing to take the risk.
Eleven minutes pass, and finally one man has had enough.
The director of a local paper factory decided to take a stand, by sitting down.
Everyone else followed quickly, and soon everyone was sitting down again.
Later that night the director of the paper factory was arrested and sent to jail for ten years.
Eventually they started using a buzzer system to notify people of when it was okay to stop clapping.