If it's on social media it must be right!

People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.
— Blaise Pascal, De l'art de Persuader

Many of us are time-poor, so we rely on social media to keep up to date. Recent research from Italy warns us this can be risky.

While the research was based on Facebook, the conclusions apply to all social media including more business-relevant social media like Twitter and LinkedIn. One questions tested was:

“When online do people encounter opposing views or do they create the equivalent of gated communities?”

The short answer is people create the equivalent of gated communities. People select and share content that supports their views and ignore the rest. This is hardly surprising because it has been known for many years.

In the days before internet, in 1998 Harvard Business Review published an article, “The hidden Traps of Decision making”. One Trap is: The Confirming-Evidence Trap where we seek information that supports our existing view and avoid information that contradicts our existing view. This affects where we go to collect evidence. Today, the danger is it’s too easy to go to social media and so we are more vulnerable to only getting information that supports our current view.

What can you do about it?

The Harvard article explains there are two reasons for the Confirming -Evidence Trap:

  1. First we often decide what we want to do before we understand why we want to do it.
  2. Second, we are more engaged by things we like than things we don’t like.

Obviously it is uncomfortable to deal with things we don’t like. The answer for social media comes from the Harvard article 

  • If you find an adviser always agrees with your point of view, get a new adviser.
  • Translating this to social media, if your contacts in LinkedIn or contacts in Twitter always agree with your view, add some different contacts.
  • Similarly, if your LinkedIn groups always agree with your views, add some new groups.
  • Finally, look for websites that might offer a contrary view, for example in Australia crikey.com.au.

Understanding the research on persuasion and decision-making helps protect us against the dangers of confirming evidence on social media. Apart from the risks, there are opportunities. Think about where your customers might look on social media. How can you use this to influence them?