Populist Pushback: Bursting the social media bubble

Are you just as tired of populists winning elections as I am? Good! I am developing a social marketing tool that allows ordinary citizens like you and me to burst the populist’s news feed bubbles and effectively persuade their followers to reconsider.

I spend a big part of my time with my two kids, Theodor (6 years) and Elliot (3 years). And as any parent, I try to teach them the best I can to do what is right – tell the truth, make friends, show respect, be true to yourself. And don’t bully others.

So on November 8th, 2016, the night of the American election, I really didn’t know what to say to my kids. How could a man, who is doing the exact opposite of what I try to teach them, succeed? How could a man who is lying and looking down on others because of their race or their disabilities become President?

I felt a strong urge to stop this. I wanted to do whatever I could so no more populist wins elections by telling lies and spreading hate. So I started looking into the reasons for why this is happening. One of it is called the “Social Media Bubble”.

Let’s listen in on what President Obama sees as the biggest threat to democracy in the years to come:

I couldn’t agree more. As soon as you follow or “Like” an extreme political person or party, your news feed turns into a scary bubble of self-confirming stories. Once you’re in there, chances are good you won’t make it out again.

As a social media consultant, I know what it takes to stop this. And I want to share it with every citizen who is just as concerned about this as I am.  My basic idea is to get as many people as possible to use 10 minutes of their time and and 10 Euros of their money to «buy» themselves into the Facebook news feeds of those who consider voting for a populist party – thereby bursting their news feed bubble of attitude-confirming posts. I estimate that it takes 10 minutes to set up such a sponsored content and that you reach at least a few hundred users by spending 10 Euros. I think many people feel the same way as I do and would be happy to invest some their time and money to stop populists from gaining more power. 

I am working with one of my professors from BI Norwegian Business School and Boaz Hamri from the University of Tel Aviv to design a message that creates the most impact, e.g. a message that makes people reconsider their entrenched attitudes. Boaz has some exciting research on how a method called paradoxical thinking.

Once our tests show that our video messages work, we roll out the initiative. Please stay tuned!

And for us social media nerds – here is how we are setting up the video campaign and measuring the results with a between-subjects design.

Audience 1 – population: Everybody who likes/follows (for example) a candidate

The video will be placed in the news feeds of those who are in this audience.

Audience 2 – treatment group: Everybody who actually watched the video

Facebook keeps track of who watched the video, no matter whether they unlike og unfollow the candidate. Those in this audience can be asked about their voting intentions. 

Audience 3- control group: Everybody in audience 1 except for those in audience 2

Those who like the candidate but have not watched the video are also asked about their voting intentions and serve as a control group.

It’s a between-subjects design. We can also keep track of how many times people have been exposed to the video. In this example the exposure frequency is 3.29.

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