I Know This Much Is True

It’s harder than ever to know what is true. ‘Fake news’ has become a global phenomenon – leaving its mark on countries from the US to Germany, the UK, Sweden and Indonesia.

In the final weeks of the US election, fake news articles had higher engagement on Facebook than real news. Craig Silverman of Buzzfeed, in an NPR interview, said that’s down to something we regularly tackle on behalf of our clients — confirmation bias or the tendency to interpret information in a way that supports what we already believe.

It feels good when we read articles that confirm our worldview. Which is why Buzzfeed’s analysis of seven days worth of news and fake news posts on Facebook showed the highest engagement behind misleading and emotional posts.

In our line of work, we know well the challenge of trying to convey messages in the face of confirmation bias. When presented with facts, people who disagree with them simply double down on what they already believed. Instead of being enlightened, they and we (since this happens to all of us humans) become all the more entrenched.  The trenches are not a place we can live and prosper for very long. Similarly, by transforming confirmation bias, we can thrive. How do we do that?

  1. Examine our own biases. As we review a client brief, prepare a campaign strategy or pitch new business, we can work to identify our own preconceived notions about the issue at hand. We do this when we bring together a team of people who think differently from one another – diverse in every sense of the word.
  2. Listen. Before we assume we know, let’s ask why people believe what they believe so we know we’re solving for the right thing.
  3. Never forget the power of being human. Our emotions make us human. Research tells us that emotional storytelling from ‘a person like me’ is the way to shift confirmation bias. Any work that aims to change fiercely held beliefs must be characterized by powerful, emotional storytelling.
  4. Fill our work with empathy. It’s hard to change.  It’s even harder to admit when we’ve been wrong. Our work to change minds needs to acknowledge that part of human nature. Soft power can work wonders.

David Ogilvy said, “Never write an advertisement which you wouldn’t want your family to read. You wouldn’t tell lies to your own wife. Don’t tell them to mine.” It is perhaps more relevant than ever before.

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