Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize Winner for Economics, once asked how on earth it can be possible that the Republicans get so many votes from ordinary people, even though they consistently try to reduce social welfare and give benefits to the rich. Ordinary people obviously are those who would suffer from such policies. Ronald Reagan introduced a strategy for it, a strategy the Republicans have continued to shape to perfection to this very day: the myth of the ‘welfare queen, driving a Cadillac’. It is a non-existant stereotype, but in the battle of election narratives the hatred of profiteers is a much more effective weapon than a complex story about how we can best design social progress. The next thing you sell is the idea that your opponent is an insensitive technocrat, out of touch with the real world and the common people, and the result might just as well be that even complete idiots like George Bush make it to the White House. Closer to home Geert Wilders is the undisputed master of the game, recruiting supporters with simplistic attacks and alternatives for fragile and imperfect policies.
In the battle of narratives the more complex, subtle story always loses from the simpler, one-dimensional, emotional narrative. And social media only seems to enlarge this effect. If you still cherish the hope that social media will enrich the debate, please spend just a single afternoon and immerse yourself in the comments under the online articles of quality newspapers and trade journals. The tone is almost unanimously hateful and provocative.
The comments are mainly focusing on one element of the original story that has made the person behind the comment flip-out. Being right yourself while the other is wrong, that’s what it’s all about. The sheer level of it is deplorable. Recently, someone asked me why people can’t comment on our blog. I said that we tried it once, but only got loser-generated content in return.
I get rightly saddened by it. A little while ago our agency was at the centre of a little social media riot. Not everyone agreed that the campaign we made was a success. And that is perfectly fine. But the verbal mud slung at us in the public space, the insults and provocations were beyond commenting. The strangest thing is… no one seemed to realise that they were not speaking to us directly, but shouting at us through public space. And when we did try to have a conversation with them, they all wanted to meet us for coffee. Yeah, right. What do your think would be in it for us?
PS. If you want to master the art of influence yourself, join the Behavioural Design Academy now.
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