This post discusses one of the common tactics used, and suggests that the tactic is a big mistake.
The tactic? Re-posting, or sharing a YouTube clip, a Facebook post etc., by your opponent in order to then discredit it.
Before explaining why this is a mistake, I’ll expand upon this tactic a little more so that it is clear what I mean.
Recently I came across an example of this. A clip of a out-and-out climate denier was posted to a Facebook page. From there, that clip was shared by other users. Some of those who shared the clip did so because they disagreed with the climate denier, and made that clear in their re-posting or in their comments.
At first glance this may seem an appropriate tactic, or at least a benign one. After all, climate denial is a position that is damaging to the planet, so needs to be challenged – doesn’t it?
Well, yes it does, but this particular tactic is a mistake. Not only does it not change the attitude of the denier, it may intensify the denial, and may even spread the misinformation and lies to more deniers and potential deniers.
Most of us will have heard that Facebook and YouTube use algorithms for ranking content and that this then informs which posts people will see in their news feed, and in what order.
The Facebook algorithm uses various elements, one of which is the popularity of the post.
Guess how the “popularity” of the post is determined?
Exactly: by the number of likes, comments, and shares that it gets.
So, each time a Facebook post is shared, its ranking goes up.
What’s more, once a post has been shared, the sharer has no control over who then re-shares that post nor how many times it is re-shared.
Returning to the example given earlier. I went back to the original post about two weeks after it had been first put up. The post had over 100 shares, and in the order of 300 likes.
There is no telling how many of those 100+ shares were then re-shared.
Hence, that post by a climate denier now has a higher ranking than when it was first posted.
Re-posting and sharing a post that we wish to criticise may assuage our anger, and may make it look as if we are promoting a different perspective, but tactically it often works to the benefit of the opponent.
Repeating a bad idea, even if to critique it, still shares the bad idea.
What Tactic Is Better?
We all know that silence is death for an idea. If no-one is discussing an idea, then the idea goes no-where, it gains no traction, it has no chance to add to prejudice, misinformation or ignorance.
Hence, in our example, the best tactic of those who wish to diminish the idea of climate denial would be to completely ignore the climate denier.
The author of a book on building good habits has coined a law that summarises this idea very well.
“The number of people who believe an idea is directly proportional to the number of times it has been repeated during the last year – even if the idea is false.”1Let me emphasise those final six words – "even if the idea is false.”
In the area of social change tactics, we are far better employed disseminating good ideas rather than repeating bad ones.
1. James Clear, Atomic Habits, RockyHouse Publishing, 2018. James Clear called this law after himself: Clear’s Law of Recurrence.