In today’s spotlight I wish to remind you about the herding that goes on that is intentionally designed to manipulate your actions, choices, and beliefs. I recently reviewed an article titled, Regulating Behavior in Online Communities. As you might fairly assume by the title, this article is all about the research that reveals exactly how and why folks behave and how to utilize this knowledge to orchestrate the results you may be seeking.
Now I should say upfront that this article is primarily concerned with organizing acceptable behavior among members of online communities and that I applaud. However, what caught my attention more than anything was the amount of research designed to encourage group assent, so-called normative behavior, and otherwise empower group thinking.
Why should I be concerned about group thinking? Think about consensus standards for a moment. Where consensus can be a valuable tool, should covert manipulation techniques be employed in order to win consensus?
Research has repeatedly demonstrated the power that a group can play over individual thinking. The famous length of line study is but one such example. In it we find that when a group decides the shorter line is longest among lines, sooner rather than later the new member of the group defies his observational ability and agrees with the group regarding which line is longest.
So what are some of the techniques deployed in the name of consensus standards? Well there are the shills who utilize shill accounts to damage or enhance reputations. Often the shill utilizes fake credentials because, of course, we’re all subject to the influence of the so-called authority. Further, it’s not uncommon for actual authorities to write reviews supporting or criticizing a point of view, all as a matter of political expediency—satisfying their own agenda. We have often seen hired guns of this nature argue everything from the health benefits that come from smoking to fossil fuel arguments currently raging in this country.
There are also the many lesser-known tricks of the trade, some designed to shame people who fail to conform. This shaming leads to psychological compliance principles that I’ve written about at great length in my book, Gotcha! The Subordination of Free Will. For example, moderators may use a scoring system to grade responses. Low grades imply stupid involvement of course and this alone imposes a penalty for failure to agree. You can see a simple form of this on Facebook, not by moderators per se’ but rather by both shills and supposed friends. Post something that riles one of your supposed friends and watch how fast they post something rude and nasty. One post may not send your post into your stomach grief, but if two come back to back the pile on is incredible. Suddenly, you may be rethinking your opinion and removing the post.
Recently I posted one such sort of post. It was a comical post of how people responded to a fake snake. Immediately the posts began coming in saying things like, “Since when is scaring someone funny?” As soon as there were two such posts back to back, the post was no longer amusing to anyone! After all, how you can you laugh when a toy snake frightens someone? (As an aside by the way, it seems our PC environment is rapidly spreading to many areas of our life).
Moving on, a more subtle technique involves the use of art. For example, if a picture illustrates three people breaking a rule, then more people find it okay to break the rules. However, if only one is shown breaking the rule, then folks are much less inclined to break the rules, even if the rule challenges rational thinking.
This sort of manipulation is referred to as injunctive norms, behaviors people approve or disapprove of and differs from what psychologists refer to as normative, or beliefs about typical behavior. Ironically the effect of making normative behavior explicit is stronger when the norm itself is less clear.
Well, I could go on and on, but we are time restricted, so let me just say this, “Be aware that there are thousands of techniques known to the manipulators that are designed to win your consent, to force your opinion, and otherwise guide your beliefs all of which exist for the sole purpose of winning your heart and mind—and not for any altruistic purpose!”
My thoughts, what are yours?