Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Combating Internet Rage

The increased use of the Internet worldwide brings with it an alternate form of aggression which is online aggression. Suler (2004) proposes that the online disinhibition effect as a reason behind toxic behaviour on the Internet. Just being online was said to cause people to increase the intensity and frequency of self-disclosure, and this extends to toxic disinhibition which often takes form in rude comments, unconstructive criticisms and threats. This aggressive behaviour is termed as flaming, which is the "expression of strong and inflammatory opinions" (Siegel, Dubrovsky, Kiesler & McGuire, 1986). In an attempt to prevent or change online flaming, we created a video that proposes ways a person can communicate meaningfully on the Internet with someone of an opposing viewpoint. The proposed methods while presented in a simplistic manner in the videos are backed by theories of persuasion which will be listed in this post. Based on an analysis of the popular videos (most viewed videos) on our chosen video platform (the Creative Ideas page on Facebook), we also attempt to pinpoint characteristics that may contribute to their popularity and incorporate them into our video. All of these contribute to both the central and peripheral route of Petty and Cacioppo's (1979) Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) of persuasion.

We targeted Facebook groups with large followings in order to have a wider outreach and hopefully change more attitudes to be more positive. With that in mind, we approached more than 30 Facebook groups that act as video-sharing platforms, but communications only fell through with one page which is the Creative Ideas page. The failure to connect to the other 20-something pages are speculated to be due to conflicts of interest (most pages are owned by media companies) or lack of consistency between their videos and ours (due to usage of different video-creating softwares that we do not have access to). However, we are still able to achieve our goal by being able to share our video on the Creative Ideas page, and with more than 2 million followers, we are still able to reach out to a large audience. Research was made first on what makes a video popular on the page and what type of features was suitable and attractive to the audience before creating a video that best suits their page. While the content of our video is quite different from that of the videos on the Facebook page (they were mostly DIY and creative life-hack videos), we managed to identify certain features that are likely to boost a video's popularity and incorporated them into our video. Examples include having a title with an adjective in it and having the video thumbnail reflect the overall theme of the video. Additional psychological principles are also incorporated into the videos to make their influence on the audience greater (Table 1), and these help to contribute to the peripheral route of persuasion in the ELM model when viewers may not be interested nor have the ability to pay attention to the content (Petty et al., 1979).

Table 1. Psychological principles incorporated into the video

In our videos, we propose to our viewers three positive ways to communicate with someone of an opposing view online. All of these proposed methods are backed by reasoning about potential outcomes, and are included in order to feed into the central route of the ELM if viewers are interested in the topic and are paying attention to the content (Petty et al., 1971). One proposed method of avoiding Internet raging is to not make criticisms. The reason behind this is that making criticisms will make the reader less likely to consider information given by the commenter and prompt the reader’s reaction to be defensive as well as negative. In an experiment on persuasive messages using likeable or unlikeable sources, information tends to have the highest impact if it came from a likeable source because it was perceived as more important than that from unlikeable sources (Smith & De Houwer, 2014). Smith et al. (2014) also puts forward that the extra positivity linked to likeable commenters may lead to a more positive implicit association with the commenter which subsequently leads to a potentially more positive implicit and explicit attitudes (Gawronski & Bodenhausen, 2006). In a separate study by Lazarus (1991), an attack to a person’s ideas, way of thinking or identified social group is reacted to as if it was an attack on oneself due to the criticised subject being an extension to the self identity. Therefore, any interaction on the Internet that involves criticism will become increasingly negative and the chances of any meaningful exchange would be less likely. With all these findings in mind, it would seem that avoiding criticisms would be a beneficial step in creating a conducive environment for any discussion online.

Another method that have been proposed to avoiding aggression online is to make the reader want to listen to what the commenter has to say instead of ordering the reader to do so. Simply demanding attention from someone else is an ineffective communicative strategy, as it is unlikely that the reader would then focus on what the commenter has to say. Therefore, the commenter should attempt to manage the conflict before attempting to communicate. It was found that using integrative and cooperative conflict strategies (e.g., compromising, attempting to understand one another, and seeking information) were positively correlated to communication competence compared to competitive strategies (e.g., blaming, threatening and shouting) and avoidant behaviours (e.g., avoiding topic, denying knowledge or involvement) which were viewed to be less competent (Canary & Spitzberg, 1989).

The third suggested method would be to support your arguments with facts as opposed to just insisting that you are right. If the commenter keeps insisting that he or she is right and the reader is wrong, this would only produce a weak argument and would only lead to both parties being frustrated and angry. Evaluations are said to be made immediately (Hastie and Park, 1986), and these judgments would affect future inferences about specific traits of a person (Carlston, 1980). So, commenters should always support their opinions and thoughts with strong evidence as this may lead to the reader making a positive evaluation of them, such as having a professional impression towards commenters that back their opinions with facts. Kelly and Garcia (2009) stated the power of ensuring the attitudes held are resistant to attacks and the importance of always providing adequate counter-arguments to these attacks, as these would help further strengthen and defend one’s  thoughts - resulting in a strong opinion. This would show to the reader how knowledgeable the commenter is, capturing more of the reader’s attention and making them listen and understand what is trying to be conveyed.

While most of the pointers mentioned in the videos may seem like obvious things to do, in our opinion it is still worth mentioning in order to remind them to those who may have forgotten or neglected their importance (remember mere-exposure?). The project is a relatively simple one, but we hope that it will serve as a small reminder in helping make the Internet a better place. Do watch our videos and please feel free to share the videos on any social platform, and let’s make the Internet a more positive place for everyone!

Project by Athirah Che Azizuddin, Izzat Haikal Abdullah Halim,Twinkle Lok Sze Han.


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