Friday Faves is our weekly blog series highlighting a few select pieces from the REG team’s reading lists. You can catch up on past Friday Faves on the archive

Psychological weapons of mass persuasion

Anne says: Are you being manipulated, persuaded or influenced by messages you see, articles you read on social platforms? Most of us would like to believe we’re not – but… can you be sure? Is your newsfeed (influenced by algorithms) simply reinforcing your opinions?

This article in Scientific American had a couple of stand out items for me, ones that may make you reconsider your actions next time there’s an election or some other issue that you have to make a decision about. Firstly, online outrage doesn’t translate to action. (This is not new – we’ve seen this for many years in social causes – lots of likes, lots of rants, but when asked to donate, or turn up at a rally – very little conversion of outrage into action). However, the study found that:

“…psychologically tailored advertising, i.e. matching the content of a persuasive message to an individuals’ broad psychographic profile, resulted in 40% more clicks and in 50% more online purchases…”

Secondly, the article continues by discussing the US elections. Clinton vs Trump, fake news and the impact on voter behaviour. What tweaked my attention here was:

“…rather than focusing on just voter persuasion, this correlational evidence hints at the possibility that fake news might also lead to voter suppression…”

Fake news can be used as a weapon of persuasion, not to change your opinion, rather to sow doubt, which leads to disengagement and not voting.

And finally, this doubt can lead to small effects. Small effects, although statistically insignificant and easy to disregard, when positioned in tight elections or votes (Brexit 51.9% vs. 48.1%), contextually can have massive impact.

The authors warn that we need to be cautious about basing our conclusions on data that is not collected under controlled, scientific research standards – however, we are being exposed to micro-targetted messages based on our digital footprints. And a reminder:

“…we are now all unwitting participants in what is likely going to be the world’s largest behavioral science experiment…”

Being aware, challenging assumptions, seeking out alternative perspectives and just stopping to consider if you’re being influenced by online opinions may help us all, to some degree. But in a time poor, information overload environment it’s going to be difficult.


Documentary: Do you trust this computer?

Nat says: Two weeks ago, on the one weekend it was available to stream online for free, I watched the 2018 documentary ‘Do you trust this computer?’ I thought I would watch it after Elon Musk kept tweeting about it in cryptic messages, which were in fact Mary Shelley (aka Frankenstein quotes) about the perils of technology. Now as someone who is very much into the existentialism of the human-technology relationship, I was already skeptical prior to watching this film. Let’s ignore, for the moment, that its context is predominately centred on the white western man, and that women in the film are depicted as either mad scientists (in one particular scene) or as stupid bystanders who giggle at the mention of robot overlords.

What I will instead do is highlight the most terrifying aspect of the film, which has nothing to do with technology or the content of the film itself. The terrifying part is the unquestioned assumptions that stand behind mankind’s pursuit of a technological world — of people who believe, almost religiously, in scientism at the helm of a technocentric mindset. What this means is that in western thinking, we have come to view existence as a problem to be solved through our technology. We see life as an explainable, mechanical machine.

The premise behind our technological pursuit is that mankind stands separate to, and therefore in control of, mother nature. Scientism becomes the pursuit of knowledge (and secretly, desires of immortality) through technological advance. You might be thinking that there is nothing wrong with such a pursuit, but when we believe we are greater than what our nature is, or what it will allow, is precisely when we create technologies that in turn destroy nature; both our own and the natural world.

If you watch this film, I implore you to watch it in the company of a technology philosopher, or someone who is at least a tech skeptic. The rhetoric and the unquestioned assumptions in the movie would have you believe that a fear of artificial intelligence is something that stands separate to ourselves as humans. I’ll leave you with a quote from Frankenstein – a tale of a scientist who pursued knowledge through technology, and regretted it.

Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my example, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow (Shelley, p. 42).


In whom do we trust?

Helen says: As the sharing economy grows, so too, it appears, does our trust in complete strangers. With easy access to information about those we interact with, we find a ‘virtual trust’ of each other. Take Uber as an example: once connected, we know our driver’s name, the rego plate, can track the vehicle and view the all-important customer rating. These ratings are the cumulative view of total strangers, and yet we take them into account when choosing our service. All this seems to be working well for Uber, as a Harvard study found that Uber drivers are considered more trustworthy than even our colleagues or neighbours.

That we are trusting strangers over someone we actually know still seems crazy to me!


Report: Social media use is increasing despite privacy fears

“Despite mounting concerns about the amount of data collected by social media companies, the latest data show that social media growth is actually accelerating.”

Emilio says: In the aftermath of the mammoth user privacy breaches on Facebook, are users leaving the platform in droves, and are brands discarding Facebook from their marketing mix?

For those who work in social media like myself, these burning questions are begging crucial answers.

In a sort of Eureka moment, I have stumbled, thankfully, upon this piece which could shed light and offer some clarity on these questions.

The latest Q2 2018 Global Digital Statshot compiled by consultancy firm Kepios, using data from Facebook, reveals these surprisingly mixed results: 

  • Facebook user growth has not been affected thus far by the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. The platform experienced steady growth, including in locations such as the US where the majority of user data was affected. Facebook’s over-all monthly active users (MAU) grew 3.2% since the start of 2018, or an estimated 67 million new users in the past 3 months. In the US, 10 million new users joined Facebook over this period, contributing to a 4% lift in MAU.
  • Young people are indeed leaving Facebook – to the tune of 10 million less users in the 13-17yo bracket. This is a 6.5% drop since January 2018.
  • Conversely, an increasing number of older people are joining Facebook. 17 million new users in the 45yo+ category were added during the period.
  • The privacy fears have not left Facebook unscathed. There is some reluctance amongst brands to invest in paid Facebook campaigns. 13% fewer pages did Facebook ads in the first three months of 2018 compared to 2017 as a whole, said to be an effect of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and ongoing privacy concerns.
  • Average engagement dropped 3% in the first three months of 2018. Further, Facebook fanpage reach sank by 17% from 2017, with the average page reaching only 8.9% of its fanbase with each post in 2018.

With growth in user numbers unaffected despite the current issues besieging Facebook, will advertising on the platform regain strength if and when the dust settles? Or will the interest from brands and advertisers eventually fizzle out? It all remains to be seen…and I will be eagerly awaiting how social media marketing evolves from these darkest days for Facebook.


Semi-autonomous robot assembles IKEA chair frame in 20 minutes

Joel says: Back in this blog post from a few weeks back I talked about how robots are quickly being created to do things we couldn’t do. And as mentioned there I know many people’s first thoughts are that robots will eventually come and take everyone’s job. Well what if they started by learning the jobs that no one really wants to do? Starting with assembling flat pack furniture.

In Science Robotics today, a trio of roboticists from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore unveiled a semi-autonomous pair of robotic arms that can put together the frame of an IKEA chair.

And while the robot’s repertoire of furniture-building skills is limited — it can’t yet screw in metal screws, for instance — the technology could soon be ready for jobs that require human-like dexterity, such as electronics and aircraft manufacturing. That’s a pretty big jump Mr Robot, straight from unable to screw in screws to aircraft manufacturing?

According to one of the creators, Quang-Cuong Pham, it took about 3 years for the robots to be able to put these bits of wood together:

“Simply programming the robot to pop a pin into a hole took a year.”

So while it seems there may be a time in the future where the frustration of flat pack furniture is a thing of the past, it doesn’t seem we’re quite there yet – we’ll still need to build our own IKEA purchases for now.


The Science Behind Using Online Communities to Change Behaviour

Jakkii says: Behavioural science, behavioural psychology – not new concepts. But we don’t always stop and consider the expertise that exists in these fields and how we can both learn and borrow from them in order to drive behaviours – and behavioural change – in our communities.

Sean Young is a behavioural psychologist who has written this piece exploring the science behind how we can use our online communities in order to change behaviour. After first determining that our aim (e.g. a product we’re creating) will help and not harm society, and that behaviour change will help meet our objectives, Young tells us we can then use psychology to understand how to address needs, including why people don’t change. Based on research, there are core components: needs that online communities can meet in order to drive behaviours.

  • The need to trust
  • The need to fit in
  • The need for self-worth
  • The need to be rewarded for good behaviour
  • The need to feel empowered

Even at a quick glance at the list without reading further, there’s clear congruence: an online community has a sense of membership, of belonging, of shared purpose.

These have meaning in our internal employee communities as well. The fairly widespread use of Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) and other social and collaborative platforms in organisations present both challenges and opportunities. A workplace has its own culture, and teams may have their own culture again. These are often reflected – and amplified – in our online platforms, both good and bad. But what online platforms do is allow tangible visibility into these cultures, providing us the opportunity to identify need and direct change. Community managers are crucial in our organisations not least because they bring with them the skills to use online communities to drive behaviour change by meeting the needs of its members – our employees.

Although Young starts with this, I think it’s a worthy final reminder:

…it’s important that we’re on the same page that being able to change behavior is a powerful skill that could be used for good and/or evil.

Whether we agree that they live up to it or not, I’ll invoke the Great Google here: don’t be evil.


Sydney Business Insights – The Future This Week Podcast


This week: talking to books, bots and pods; echo chambers; and fish tanks and Musk’s couch in other news. Sandra Peter (Sydney Business Insights) and Kai Riemer (Digital Disruption Research Group) meet once a week to put their own spin on news that is impacting the future of business in The Future, This Week.

The stories this week:

Talk to books

The myth of the online echo chamber

Other stories we bring up:

Google’s talk to books

Chatbots are dead

In defence of the homepod

Science study on lies spreading faster than the truth online

Seth Flaxman and Oxford colleagues study

Elizabeth Dubois Ottawa University study

Christopher Bail and team at Duke University study

Youtube is a deep rabbit hole

Buy Elon a couch

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