Want to Advance Progressive Goals for Free? Like, Share, Repeat

Kevin Roose of the New York Times reported that Joe Biden has only 32,000 subscribers to his video platform, 300,000 fewer than Trump has. In a campaign in which the only way to reach people will be via TV and the Internet, this is a serious problem.

If you are desperate to defeat Trump, here are two simple things you can do that won’t cost you any money and won’t take much of your time.

Don’t follow and comment on things you disagree with. Research shows very clearly that arguing with people about their beliefs and attitudes will not only not persuade them, it will strengthen their beliefs.[1] However, that is not the main reason you should not bother arguing with posts you find on the internet that you disagree with. The main reason is that YOU ARE HELPING THEM!

All of the major social media platforms promote pieces on the basis of how much attention they get. They could care less whether you are praising or objecting to the piece. They just want to have as many eyes on content in their platform as possible and their research shows that controversial material gets more eyes.

Andrew Marantz’s eye-opening book about the antisocial actors on the internet has described how many right wing trolls are making a living by inciting controversy. They do and say things that are calculated to enrage progressives and when progressive fight back or counterattack, it guarantees more attention to the right wing attack. The right calls that “owning the libs.” It’s a sport. They love it when you become enraged.

Do like, follow, and share prosocial posts. Although it is smaller and less connected than the right wing social media netowork, there are plenty of progressives on the internet. If we can get them to stop paying attention to the trolls and instead build the network of people who support prosocial values and norms, we can move society in the right direction. When I suggested this to my wife, Georgia, she said that she couldn’t possibly have an influence by liking and sharing examples of prosocial values or behavior that she sees on the internet. So here is what I said in Rebooting Capitalism about how progressive individuals can make a difference. (Which I am happy to report she finds persuasive.)

Imagine that just a thousand people began to forward one thing a week to their connections. About 69 million Americans have Twitter accounts. According to the KickFactory blog, the average Twitter user has 707 followers. If a thousand people tweeted to their followers, we would reach more than 700,000 people. And if just 10% of those 700,000 retweeted, we would be reaching another 49,000,000 with retweets. Of course, my numbers don’t include the fact that many of those people would be reached more than once. But that is a good thing — repeated messages from multiple source is effective social influence.

Of course this is just Twitter. About 151 million American adults use Facebook. They average about 338 friends. Using the same assumptions as for Twitter, the first round of 1000 sharing a Facebook post would reach 338,000. If 10% of them shared an article or video, it would reach another 11,424,400. If five percent of them shared, we would reach another 193,072,360. It adds up.

I am not talking about simply liking and sharing what the Biden campaign puts out or only promoting political content you agree with. If you support Biden or other democrats, I am pretty sure it is because you want a society that seeks to nurture the wellbeing of every person. We can’t achieve such a society by simply winning the next election. We need to build a network of people and organizations that are promoting prosocial values in every sector of society. Any content that you find on the web or that you create that exemplifies kindness, caring, compassion, respect, or love is important.

Too often the Democratic party has tried to win elections by activating the most motivated, all the while ignoring the people who have turned away from our contentious politics in disgust. In 2016 only 55.7% of eligible voters voted. To some extent the party’s focus on getting out the vote of their base is understandable; they have limited resources and ordinarily it is very hard to influence people who seldom vote.

But these are not ordinary times. The rise of Trump, the looming catastrophe of climate change, and the Covid-19 epidemic call on us to get more involved in the direction of the world. And it turns out that you can contribute to the change we need, simply by like and sharing positive messages about the world you want.

Reference Cited

1. Biglan, A., Rebooting Capitalism: How behavioral science can forge a society that works for everyone. 2020, Eugene, OR: Values to Action. https://valuestoaction.com/reboot/

Written by

Anthony Biglan, PhD, is President of Values to Action and author of Rebooting Capitalism https://www.valuestoaction.com/

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