18 votes

Platforms scramble as ‘Plandemic’ conspiracy video spreads misinformation like wildfire

10 comments

  1. [6]
    kfwyre
    (edited )
    Link
    There's a retailer in the US, JCPenney, that was famous for always having sales. Always. Everything was always on sale. You'd see an $80 shirt marked down to $20! Bargain, right? Well, not...
    • Exemplary

    There's a retailer in the US, JCPenney, that was famous for always having sales. Always. Everything was always on sale. You'd see an $80 shirt marked down to $20! Bargain, right? Well, not exactly, because the sales would always cycle and change, keeping the shirt perpetually somewhere down near the $20 range. If its price is always $20, is it really an $80 shirt?

    In 2012, they decided to change their strategy and pivoted to remove "fake prices" from their store. Instead of claiming a shirt was $80 and then selling it for $20, they would just sell it for $20. That was the value of the shirt.

    This went terribly. The company lost a ton of revenue, ousted their CEO, and pivoted right back to their fake prices.

    It seems that "price anchoring" is a real phenomenon, and we can use it to see the difference between the two models. Here's the exact same shirt with the exact same "actual" value (yes I know this is a fallacy but bear with me) being sold in two different ways:

    1. A $20 shirt sold at that price means the consumer loses $20 and gains a shirt with a $20 value.
    2. An "$80" shirt sold at $20 means the consumer loses $20 and gains a shirt with a perceived $80 value.

    It's easy to see how the second one is preferable. It looks like the consumer is getting more for their money. The dissonance of the perceived value of the shirt and its actual value create an additional benefit for the consumer, even though it's nothing more than a constructed illusion.

    Now, we can add to this two other factors. First: the fake price situation makes shoppers feel good. Spending $20 on a $20 shirt feels very straightforward, but spending $20 on an "$80" shirt feels like you are getting a bargain -- a steal! You might feel like you're getting away with something, or that you're a more sensible shopper for finding the deal. The deal might validate aspirations of wealth or status in you. None of these happen when you do the $20 for $20 exchange.

    The second factor is that the fake price can make the purchase feel more rational. The discount creates the idea that this purchase makes much more sense than a standard purchase because of the savings involved. A rational shopper seemingly only buys what they need at prices they're willing to pay for it, but a labyrinth of coupons and discounts creates an elaborate way for a "rational" shopper to engage with a system that speaks not to their need for products but for their need to get the most out of their money. Add to this factors of time pressure and loss aversion ("If I don't buy the item now, its price might go back up later"), and you can see how the two different situations create an entirely different experience for the shopper.

    In the fair price situation, the shopper only gets a shirt. In the fake price situation, the shopper gets a shirt, a good feeling, and the sense that they've engaged in a very rational action. Furthermore, these latter factors help insulate the decision in the first place. If you point out the fact that the $80 shirt isn't actually worth $80 at all, you're unlikely to be heard partially because it doesn't fit the paradigm they've bought into, and partially because it makes you look like you're a killjoy, willfully pissing into their cornflakes of savings.

    I mention all of this because it seems like fake news and conspiracy theories do the same thing that JCPenney does, but for information. Instead of anchoring a higher price and then subverting it with a discount, however, they anchor actual truth as suspect and then subvert it with a counternarrative.

    Conspiracy theories can help people feel good. People feel like they're getting "inside" information or the "real" story. They can have the feeling of a breakthrough or a revelation -- of finally seeing truth among the lies. They can also help people feel deeply rational. That's why there's so much seeming "sense" and "evidence" backing them up. They're self-insulating as well. Because those who buy in already believe that actual truth is suspect, attempts to provide them with this or counter their beliefs simply feed their own counternarrative. Plus, to counter them, you're put in the position of killjoy, pissing in their feel-good, rational cornflakes again.

    Using counternarrative to embed information is a remarkably effective tool. I'm not proud of this, and I no longer do this, but I've used it in my own teaching practice. For example, let's harken back to the JCPenney shirt example, but make it about information. Instead of a discount, let's toss in a counternarrative:

    1. When you multiply two negative numbers, you get a positive number.
    2. When you multiply two negative numbers, people WANT you to think that you get a NEGATIVE number but they're all wrong! You actually get a POSITIVE number! Don't fall for the LIE of ALL NEGATIVE MULTIPLICATION!

    Which one do you think students will be more drawn to? Which one is more likely to stick in their minds? Now, in this example, the information is actually correct in both. Two negative numbers, when multiplied together, do make a positive number, but that's a truth that many people are uncomfortable with confronting for the first time. It doesn't make any intuitive sense to them.

    Consider how we could easily flip the second example to make the counternarrative go against the accepted truth and support the idea of two negatives multiplying to a negative (which is wrong). And then consider how difficult it would be to counter that when it's about something less falsifiable than math.

    I wish I had a solution for this, but I don't. I see this issue as a teacher. My students love conspiracy theory videos. They love feeling like they get to see behind the curtain. The flash, bombast, and allure of fake information, especially fake information sold to them as "something you're not supposed to hear/know" is so much more interesting than the sometimes bland, banal, or depressing real truths that they're asked to consume via education. I frequently tell my students they are being lied to on the internet, but it comes across as an out-of-touch, old-man-yells-at-cloud-computing kind of thing. If I play up my instructional or communication methods to meet their expectations (like I've done by using counternarrative to get key information to stick), I'm only part of the problem because I'm feeding into the very methods that mislead them in the first place.

    Stuff like fake news and conspiracy theories show us that human psychology can quite effectively be hacked and exploited, and that, to the people who buy into them, the cure feels worse than the disease. I say this because I'm someone who's highly susceptible to the JCPenney-type schemes out there. Fake prices are my fake news, and I still engage with them even though I'm fully aware that they're a complete setup. I literally posted cost-saving discount tips in another thread just yesterday, and I'm fully aware that "sales" are largely a marketing tactic! I can't find the link anymore, but I remember seeing an article from an indie developer about setting the price for their game not at what it was actually worth but far above that. They did so because they knew nearly everyone buying their game would be doing it during big Steam Sales, where the expectation is that discounts are both deep and widespread. The 75% off price for their game was their actual price, so their full price was ratcheted up, JCPenney-style, to create that artificial bargain feeling.

    If I'm aware of the issue and still susceptible to it, what does that say for others with equal or lesser awareness, and what does it say when we pivot those concepts to information rather than prices?

    19 votes
    1. [4]
      Kuromantis
      Link Parent
      "The real problem of humanity is the following: We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of...

      What does it say when we pivot those concepts to information rather than prices?

      "The real problem of humanity is the following: We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall."
      - Edward O. Wilson

      11 votes
      1. [3]
        kfwyre
        Link Parent
        Interesting quote. Can you expand a little bit on why you included it and how you relate it to this topic?

        Interesting quote. Can you expand a little bit on why you included it and how you relate it to this topic?

        3 votes
        1. hungariantoast
          Link Parent
          It's up to Kuromantis to explain why they included the quote, but I can provide some background on it. The quote comes from an answer Wilson provided to a question during an event on 9 September...

          It's up to Kuromantis to explain why they included the quote, but I can provide some background on it.

          The quote comes from an answer Wilson provided to a question during an event on 9 September 2009.

          A bit of context:

          Krulwich then asked about the future. Watson said he hoped that cancer would be cured by 2020, and pointed to studies of how the brain works and how life began as two of the most promising areas of research in the biological sciences. Wilson agreed, but would himself, he said, embark on a new study of diversity, this time in the virtually unexplored world of microbes.

          Will we solve the crises of next hundred years? asked Krulwich. “Yes, if we are honest and smart,” said Wilson. “The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall.” Until we understand ourselves, concluded the Pulitzer-prize winning author of On Human Nature, “until we answer those huge questions of philosophy that the philosophers abandoned a couple of generations ago—Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?—rationally,” we’re on very thin ground.

          5 votes
        2. Kuromantis
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          It says we have not been biologically adapted to the world we live in and this is really goddamn terrible and really easily abusable. For example, in a hunter-gatherer setup the idea of science or...

          It says we have not been biologically adapted to the world we live in and this is really goddamn terrible and really easily abusable. For example, in a hunter-gatherer setup the idea of science or truth as we have it today is completely impractical and thus the brain defaulted to trying to guess what happened itself. this is decently practical in such a setup where you only have yourself to take care of and your eyes and memory as evidence. That same setup also explains "just go do [blank]" because in a hunter gatherer society most things are done at the individual level even though in modern society that's not the case anymore, along with stuff like the Dunning-Kruger effect (there is no immediate benefit to being uncertain, therefore in most situations we just pick an opinion before or without actually reviewing it). Those are a few examples but I presume there are a lot more of them.

          4 votes
    2. Pipas
      Link Parent
      Fascinating read and I agree with everything you say. There's no point in us trying to figure out a solution because I don't think there is one unless we start heavely controlling the media but...

      Fascinating read and I agree with everything you say. There's no point in us trying to figure out a solution because I don't think there is one unless we start heavely controlling the media but that leads to another can of worms.

      For a long time information was distributed by only few sources and those sources had the integrity to not use the JC Penny sale/sensationalist approach to information. I'm not American so the mainstream news in my country aren't as polarizing as some out there, but on the internet anyone can claim to have the best deal, the new scoop, and there is no stopping people who want to buy it.

      3 votes
  2. [3]
    Pipas
    Link
    I've seen more and more talk about misinformation and with the video in the article reaching a more mainstream success due to it being professionally produced, as opposed to most conspiracy theory...

    I've seen more and more talk about misinformation and with the video in the article reaching a more mainstream success due to it being professionally produced, as opposed to most conspiracy theory videos out there, I was thinking is there better way to educate people about this misinformation?

    The deleting of the video on social media has a backfire effect of not being fast enought to prevent people from seeing it before it gets taken down and giving some credence that they are being silenced by a big conspiracy.

    8 votes
    1. Death
      Link Parent
      Yes that seems to be the way Finland wants to tackle the issue. And while I agree that it's probably the better one in the long term, it also requires a lot more money and work invested, and...

      Yes that seems to be the way Finland wants to tackle the issue. And while I agree that it's probably the better one in the long term, it also requires a lot more money and work invested, and probably won't have measurable effect until much later. So under the current circumstances it's probably not enough of a solution.

      5 votes
    2. Deimos
      Link Parent
      Specifically about this video and not the problem in general, but this is a good article on Forbes about the video with links to a lot of resources about how to respond to it: Why It’s Important...

      Specifically about this video and not the problem in general, but this is a good article on Forbes about the video with links to a lot of resources about how to respond to it: Why It’s Important To Push Back On ‘Plandemic’—And How To Do It

      3 votes
  3. HoolaBoola
    Link
    If you want to witness the people who buy this crap, just check out the comments on that article. Multiple gems there, my favourite being "you said she's anti-vaccine even though she said she's...

    If you want to witness the people who buy this crap, just check out the comments on that article. Multiple gems there, my favourite being "you said she's anti-vaccine even though she said she's not", as if someone saying they're not something immediately makes it true.

    2 votes