A text message Saturday morning had me curious. Could I potentially start a scare using influence, suggestion, and persuasion tactics on social media? I decided to conduct an experiment, using Facebook as the basis and persuasion tactics I’ve learned over time to see if I could convince someone a gas shortage existed in Tennessee.
For those who aren’t aware, a spill in a pipeline around Alabama caused the potential for a gas shortage in the Volunteer State. According to local news reports, the pipeline was the primary means of petroleum delivery for several gas station chains, so “stocking up” was crucial. Because the story to sell was “gas shortage,” one local television station had the requisite “eye-witness” who couldn’t get gas at a local station not far from Compound West.
I began my experiment by posting the following to Facebook:
There is a gas shortage in Tennessee.
You need to go out right now and buy gas before you can’t get any.
You don’t need to question this. Don’t bother actually checking a “news” source. Just believe me.
I saw it on Facebook, anyway. That makes it newsworthy and true.
I also predicted that at least one person would get mad at me for posting said statement on Facebook. That’s because over time on that platform I’ve learned its users have a love/hate relationship with facts and truth. People are incredibly ready to believe a clickbait article about Iceland paying men $5,000 to move there so they will marry more women and a population increase occurs, but if you post a stupid picture from a page like “Shares From Your Aunt” they will get angry because it’s nonsensical.
And then there’s the stuff that makes lawyers’ brains instinctively hurt. The posts about Facebook gaining a license to all of your work and how you need to paste an official notice to your wall per a bullshit UCC article. So truth is a pliable subject on Zuckerberg’s social platform. Let’s see where the experiment takes us.
Within minutes, one user shared the post twice without any question of the source.
Ten people “liked” the post. Three people reacted with a laughing icon. This would tend to indicate those who saw it recognized the post as a joke. Some didn’t though, and those comments became the interesting aspect of this experiment.
One user commented the following:
WATE-6 reports this, and parts of Georgia are also affected.
Yet another replied on the same comment thread:
And it’s all caused by Colonial Pipeline burst just south of Birmingham, AL. We are under a state of emergency for a gas shortage. So is GA.
These statements added to the original influence of my post through an appeal to authority and something referred to as “social proof.” Both add to what is called “confirmation bias.” Smarter folk than I explain these principles in other areas, and they aren’t really mine to teach. I will take the time to expose each statement as it appears.
Our next commenter decided to bless us with anecdotal evidence to support my claim. This is an interesting comment, because it had absolutely nothing to do with Tennessee or a gas shortage.
While at a stoplight in SC yesterday, I saw an electronic gas price sign change the price of all three grades by 10 cents per gallon. The price did’t (sic) go down.
The comment was nothing short of lunacy in action, but it added to the subjective belief that there was some sort of panic over losing gas supply in Tennessee that people in Nashville were lining up at the pumps in double-digit lines to fuel their cars. Someone asked if people were that “dumb.” My response was simple:
“No. They’re just irrational and acting out of fear.”
So did I personally cause a panic? The answer is an unqualified “no.” However, I wasn’t the only person talking about the issue on social media. Local news outlets blamed the long lines at the pump for “chatter on social media.” One suggestion can cause a group response. When that group takes a source as credible, and it plays to a strong emotion, panics occur.
Belief is subjective. If you know where a party’s beliefs lie, they can be changed and plied into a new form.