For more than the last year, I have spent literally every single day working on social media; writing, sharing, debating, and debunking. ETT is not just a website, and just not just a Facebook page, in fact we also administrate the biggest open (anyone can join) truth-based groups on Facebook (the Worldwide Truth Movement and the Exposing The Truth Group). In reality, this means that we, and all those working with us, take an active role in enlightenment work well beyond just writing texts.
My experience working here; editing, fact-checking, watching statistics, reading and responding to hundreds of thousands of comments and questions, has taught me quite a lot about humans, and about the internet. I will sum this knowledge up in 11 points.
1. Many people who comment have never read the text
The majority of user interaction is actually generated primarily by the title and the picture. Irresponsible interpretations of scientific fact (like claiming smelling farts can cure cancer or other disease) go extremely viral and spread pseudoscience far and wide. One of the prime examples is chemtrails. This also happens in the geopolitical realm, and despite the belief of millions on the internet: Jacob Rothschild had nothing to do with the disappearing Malaysian flight.
This is not complicated stuff: simple research and backtracking of information will inevitably help figure out what is really going on. Unfortunately, a lot of people share without even having read the story. That’s like someone encouraging you to read a book they have themselves never read simply because of the name and cover. And yes, that is as ridiculous as it sounds. When we released the text debunking the Jacob Rothschild connection, most of the shares and comments originated from people thinking our story was proving instead of debunking the issue.
2. People often dislike objective analysis; they yearn for bias.
There are reasons that NaturalNews is bigger than us, and it isn’t because they do more work. The reason is that they do not care about facts; they care about perception. More than once, they have published stories that are more than questionable; they are factually wrong. The same can be said for many other sites, like the MindsUnleashed. These stories go viral because they speak to what people already think (also called confirmation bias), and not to the reality of the situation.
Contrast any number of factually uninformed “GMOs cause cancer” texts with my analysis of the potential, as well as risks, of genetically modified food. Had this text instead been entirely about how bad GMOs are, instead of the technology, potential, and risks, it would have been better received. Instead, it is always flooded with comments accusing us of being shills or uninformed.
3. In general, anecdotes attract more attention than scientific fact.
This one is something I cannot quite explain beyond the fact that people can better identify with someone elses’ experience than empirical data. Unfortunately, empirical data provides far more information, without confusing as many variables, as anecdotal evidence.
Even though there have been dozens of studies and meta-analysises undertaken to investigate any connection between vaccines and autism, people continue to rather believe shock-based anti-science blogs who tell them vaccines cause autism. Whether vaccines in their current form carry problems or not is a different matter: vaccines do not cause autism, in any way. This remains true no matter how many people want to blame their child’s mental condition on vaccines: genetics and diet are more likely culprits.
4. People want to feel special, with special knowledge, even if this “special knowledge” is actually bullshit
Part of the reason chemtrail, anti-immunization, and New World Order rhetoric goes so far is that it offers people the chance to feel “special” without any work. It offers the opportunity to say: “I see past the illusions, I know more than all these other people, and I don’t have to learn or fact-check or verify any of it. This YouTube video/shady authorless text helps me see the real facts that are being hidden from us.”
Ironically, actually special knowledge (for instance that organics are not necessarily pesticide free in the US, or that we are endangering the biosphere) tends to be neglected since it requires doing some actual research and thought. I think the most embarrassing instance of this was the “fake snow” people kept claiming to be “proving” on YouTube last year.
5. People want the easy answer, even if it is a wrong answer
Likely directly connected to point 4, people want to understand what is going on, but they do not care if their understanding is right. This means the simplest answer tends to be repeated and spread virally. Sometimes these simple answers are actually true, but much of the time they are not. No single substance cures cancer, but many can help your body reduce blood flow to tumors or even kill cancer cells. These different treatments work best in tandem: there is no “one stop cure” for anything, really.
6. Often, people comment on posts simply to make themselves feel better
This is the reason posts with a title asking a question often do better than those making a statement (unless that statement speaks to the average person’s confirmation bias). When an article makes a statement that triggers cognitive dissonance , which is an inner tension that emerges when you hear or read information that conflicts with what you already believe, and people tend to release this tension in the comments section. We see this often in regard to our text detailing the negative effects of violence based discipline on children, the effects of TV or of pornography, and of course in regard to GMOs.
Unfortunately, their insistence does not make their informal logical fallacies any less misinformed. Typically, a debate with such people is held for the benefit of the spectators, although fortunately there exist a few tactics for dealing with dissonant reactions.
7. Non-threatening links always travel farther
Had I written this text without giving examples, without mentioning specific (and need I mention important?) issues, this article would have reached probably twice as many people. Think of how often you see cat or dog videos being shared in your social circle.
If it cannot trigger dissonance, then no one has any reason to oppose it and it pleases a larger portion of the people who read/watch it. This is the conundrum of modern media: people do not really want to hear important stuff. Our position at ETT is that it is our job to talk about important stuff, and occasionally publishing a non-threatening post is simply necessary to continue paying for writers, the server, and our time.
8. Sex sells, even if the sexy picture has nothing to do with the article or video
How many of you know “Athene,” who does science based philosophical videos on Youtube? If you do, you most likely ran into him through his most popular videos, basically all of which use a physically attractive woman and sexy title to attract clicks. Although his philosophy is worthy of notice, his most popular video (with 43,000,000 views) is his Sexy Countdown Blog, and 6/8 of his videos with over 4,000,000 views use this same beautiful girl to attract viewers. His actual work in philosophy has only gotten the exposure it has due to his sex-based marketing tactics.
We have 3 texts about pornography: one with a picture of a girl with a black eye, one with screenshots of Facebook sites posting porn (and not being deactivated by Facebook after being reported), and one with girls in a bikini competition. Despite all 3 having somewhat similar content, give or take the focus and level of detail, the articles with sexual pictures were shared 100x more often than the picture of the women with a black eye, and got more than double the clicks. Although we would never use a sexy picture for a completely unrelated article, it would probably help us reach more people.
Because of this, I am using a “sexy” thumbnail for this text to prove this point directly.
9. The name of the source sometimes carries more weight than the content
When the BBC falsely interpreted recent epigenetic science showing experience could be passed on indirectly to the next generation, by claiming “memories” were passed on: no one flinched. The fact is that such a title, same as claiming farts can cure cancer, are merely fanning the fires of scientific illiteracy. When we covered this same topic, incorporating newer research, and titled it “how does your experience affect your DNA,” there were those who refused to believe us. The same happened very recently when we announced the discovery of several new types of bacteria that feed directly on electrons.
10. People saying “do your research” tends to mean they have done little to none. People who have done research state facts, not try to demean your knowledge without citing anything
People who really know tend to not mind teaching: the interest that sparks the research in the first place also tends to expand into them helping others learn too. A real skeptic is someone who names sources, explains data and statistical analysis, and is just as open to learn as they are to teach. People who are not willing to teach, or to learn, are the most likely to tell you to “do your research.”
11. People love lists
This is a good point to end on, and hopefully puts a smile on your face. Lists let people scan through an article, read just the headlines, and feel like they understood all of what happened. Thus the promise of a list is a promise that you don’t need that much time to absorb the information (whether this is true is a different question, though). People are wary to click on links where they think they will need to think very much, and a normal text flows together: makes it hard to fly through effectively. Although you can never get everything by flying through, a list lets you take away more in less time.