With widespread coverage of selected terror attacks it is difficult for the average viewer to determine just what is real, what is manufactured, what is propaganda, what is the truth, and what are the root causes of these terrible events.
It becomes apparent in times of blanket media coverage that people become polarized to the circumstances at hand.
Sides are chosen over who is to blame and what we should do about these horrific acts of violence. Emotions and feelings of hatred, revenge, and retribution are aroused and fostered through 24/7 media coverage of certain incidents.
Regardless of the circumstances, people form strong beliefs and opinions without fully understanding the background and facts. Why do we form such strong emotive beliefs when we are far removed from the facts and reality of these events?
Have you ever walked past a crowded restaurant and thought, “That place must be good, we should go there some time?” Have you ever waited in line to get into a nightclub only to find that when you get in there the place is only half full?
Or have you ever seen your favorite celebrity advertising a product or service and then went out and bought it? If you have, you are a victim to social proof.
Social proof is a psychological phenomenon which influences individuals to reflect the behaviors of groups or other individuals for a given situation. Psychologists refer to social proof as a ‘decision heuristic,’ a shortcut for making decisions.
Social Proof Helps People Make Decisions Without Having to Do Their Own Research
“The information age is actually a media age. We have war by media; censorship by media; demonology by media; retribution by media; diversion by media – a surreal assembly line of obedient clichés and false assumptions.” — John Pilger
Social proof is a shortcut, allowing people to avoid critically thinking about a decision, favoring instead to copy someone else’s behaviors.
The behavior is driven by the belief that if others around us are doing something then our decision to do the same is confirmed. It stems from an inability and insecurity to make decisions.
More importantly, social proof assures us we are making the right decisions which conform with our friends, colleagues, and society in general.
Research shows that our buying decisions are significantly influenced by the reviews of others — hence why marketers use testimonials, reviews, and celebrity endorsements so often. These help us justify purchasing various products and services, alleviating any concerns that we may be making the wrong decision.
Social Proof in the Media
“The most effective propaganda is found not in the Sun or on Fox News – but beneath a liberal halo. When the New York Times published claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, its fake evidence was believed, because it wasn’t Fox News; it was the New York Times.” – John Pilger
The mainstream media uses their outlets and reach to influence and help people form opinions and beliefs through what they communicate. The media can have a significant impact on how people make decisions.
The untrained viewer will reflect behaviors propagated through news outlets, assuming the broadcaster is providing accurate and unbiased information. Social proof is a powerful tool, as it is breeds conformity.
When a person is in a situation where they are unsure of the correct way to behave, they will often look to others for cues concerning the correct behavior. We conform, like sheep.
We follow others whom we believe or think have a better understanding of the situation. When individuals and groups have no clear guidance for making decisions, social proof acts as evidence, confirming certain behaviors or actions.
Social Proof Delivered Seamlessly to a Television Set Near You
“It is not enough for journalists to see themselves as mere messengers without understanding the hidden agendas of the message and the myths that surround it.” John Pilger
Social proof is delivered seamlessly today to the masses via the media. This is achieved through a variety of strategies and techniques aimed to influence opinions and alter beliefs.
Experts, academics, politicians, and authority figures (either for or against a certain cause or ideology) are paraded out into the news networks, promoting certain agendas and causes.
Having an expert or some authority figure discuss or present an opinion or information goes a long way towards convincing the audience this particular view is credible and trustworthy.
These authority figures are similar to a form of peer group pressure. Presenting confident and seemingly well-respected and credentialed people as mouthpieces helps communicate to the audience a compelling reason to believe the information presented.
Multiple Source Effect
“Official truths are often powerful illusions.” John Pilger
Making it harder to determine what is true and unbiased is the multiple source effect. This occurs when people give more credence to ideas that are stated by multiple sources.
This effect can be clearly seen when social proof occurs. For instance, one study observed that people who hear five positive reviews on a book as read by five different synthesized voices perceive that book more favorably than if they hear the same five reviews as read by one synthesized voice. (1)
Similarly, the mainstream media, which is predominately owned by a few conglomerates, publishes articles and stories throughout the various mediums (newspapers, magazines, online and television) seamlessly.
This integration of information and news provides the consistency which convinces the untrained observer that the information is legitimate.
(1) Lee, Kwan Min (1 April 2004). “The Multiple Source Effect and Synthesized Speech.”. Human Communication Research 30 (2): 182–207.