Outrage Management and Precaution Advocacy [en]

[fr] Interview très intéressant concernant la communication des risques. Un risque c'est un danger objectif, et aussi une réaction subjective, "outrage". Les deux ne sont pas liés. On voit des réactions très émotionnelles à des risques très bas, et des risques hauts qui n'inquiètent pas du tout les gens. Il s'agit donc de trouver des techniques pour "calmer" l'inquiétude excessive pour des dangers mineurs (= "outrage management") et augmenter le sentiment de danger pour les dangers qui n'inquiètent pas assez (= "precaution advocacy"). Fascinant.

Listening to an old episode of On The Media, I came upon this super interesting segment about risk communication (titled Terrorists vs. Bathtubs — listen to the piece, it’s just over 10 minutes, or read the transcript).

Brooke interviews Peter Sandman, expert in the field. He presents risk as a combination of outrage and hazard. Hazard is the real danger and outrage is how upsetting it is. There is no correlation between the two, and that is what makes risk communication tricky.

When I was studying chemistry I had a class on risk management. It was one of my most interesting classes, and had I stayed in chemistry, I might have delved deeper into the subject. What I learned (and it changed the way I view the world) is that a risk is a product of a probability (that something will happen) and of the amount of damage if it happens. Peter Sandman adds another dimension to the equation: the human reaction.

Outrage management is what you do when you’re faced with people who are excessively angry or frightened about something that is not that dangerous. Precaution advocacy is what you do to make people more worried/scared about something they are not concerned about enough.

Trust and control play a big role on how much outrage a risk will generate. If I trust you and you say it’s no big deal, I’ll calm down. If I control the risk I’ll be less outraged than when I don’t (quoting from the interview transcript):

Trust is a biggie. If I trust you, I’m going to find the risk that you are exposing me to much more acceptable than if I don’t trust you. If you trust the government to tell you that surveillance is no big deal and they’re gonna do it responsibly, you’re gonna have a different response than if you think the government is not to be trusted. So trust is one.

Control is one. If it’s under my control I’m going to be less upset than if it’s under your control. Memorability goes in the other direction. If you can remember awful things happening or you can imagine awful things happening, that makes the risk more memorable, that makes it more a source of outrage. But what’s key here is that outrage has a much higher correlation with perceived hazard than hazard has with perceived hazard.

Peter gives an example of how to manage outrage:

Let’s take a situation that most of your listeners are going to think is genuinely low hazard, like vaccination. But if you’re the CDC or you’re some public health department and you’re dealing with a parent who’s anxious, it’s not mostly telling the parent that it’s foolish to worry about vaccine. It’s much more listening to the parent’s concerns. It’s partly acknowledging that there is some truth to those concerns. The strongest argument in the toolkit of opponents of vaccination is the dishonesty of vaccination proponents about the very small risk that’s real. If you’re 98 percent right and pretending to be 100 percent right, then the advocates of that two percent nail you!

And here’s an example of the opposite, precaution advocacy, when you actually try and increase outrage to encourage people into safer behaviours:

One of the things that demonstrably works well with seatbelts and well generally in precaution advocacy is scaring people. So those scary drivers at movies that, you know, they make teenagers watch actually do a lot of good. Role models work.

One of the most effective things in persuading people to get vaccinated against the swine flu pandemic a couple of years ago was when President Obama got his children vaccinated. One  example of a strategy that’s very powerful is if you can get people to do a behavior that doesn’t necessarily make sense to them, because they don’t have the attitude to support that behavior, once they have done the behavior, they begin to wonder why they did it. This is called cognitive dissonance. And, and cognitive dissonance is a very strong motivator for learning things that you wouldn’t otherwise want to learn.

A nice example of this is most people who have ever tried to ask people to sign petitions notice that more people sign your petition and then read your literature than read your literature and then signed your petition. They sign the petition to be courteous, and then the act of signing the petition makes them wonder, what did I do, what did I sign? Then they read the literature, in order to teach themselves that what they did made sense and, and to develop an attitude that supports the behavior.

The conversation goes on to talk about the NSA and surveillance and terrorism (this is not long after the Snowden leaks), as well as the narrative around fracking, which Peter has since written about on his website. (His website is full of good stuff, by the way, including musings on his legacy, as he’s pretty much semi-retired.)

What I was really interested in though was this concept of outrage, and how trying to calm outraged people down with facts doesn’t really work.

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Thoughts on Dystopian Tech Future Vision [en]

These last weeks I’ve been catching up with On The Media (partly thanks to being back in the saddle), and earlier this evening I was listening to the February 18 piece on “Our Future With Technology”.

I had a few thoughts as I was listening that I’d like to share with you.

First of all, I quite strongly believe in the position defended by Brooke at some point which says that technology mainly allows us to become more of what we are. This is along the line of what I try to explain about “dangers” of the internet regarding teenagers: most of the trouble they face online is the same kind of trouble they face offline. Yes, sometimes with a twist, and other consequences. But in a very general way, the internet is not a completely alien place — as our local online world sociologist Olivier Glassey said a few months back during a talk I attended, we need to stop thinking of the “online” as a “separate space” (the expression he used is “le lieu de l’altérité”).

A bit later in the show, they are talking about augmented reality: what will it be like when we can wear glasses or contact lenses which, along with facial recognition software, will allow us to identify the people we come upon in the streets? OMG-there-will-be-no-privacy-anymore the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it <insert more dystopian panic here>.

I’m always surprised that this kind of thought experiment never includes things like “well, some people might end up covering their faces” or “we’ll start wearing masks” or “there will be a way to opt out of being ‘facially recognized'” or… whatever coping mechanism one can imagine. Because as technology advances and disrupts the way we are used to living, we also evolve coping or evading mechanisms to resist change. Why does run-of-the-mill dystopian thinking always depict us as passive victims of the unstoppable advance of technology?

We’re not passive. We usually actively resist change. For example, we now carry on our phones everywhere we go, but we choose to mute them or screen our calls — something that was pretty unthinkable 30 years ago when all we knew was landlines.

With the dystopian glasses on (the show was constructed as an attempted dialogue between utopian and dystopian visions of our tech future) the idea was brought up that augmented reality might at some point allow us to ignore or obliterate what we disagree with — extreme example: not seeing people with radically opposed views to ours. Bob concluded “people obliterate people”, which in my sense is right: we are already obliterating what we don’t want to see. Technology might allow us to do it better (“becoming more of what we are”) but sticking to what is familiar and ignoring the rest is fundamentally human. If I wasn’t so tired right now I’d fish out this article I read (no memory where) which shows how we very selectively remember what already fits in our worldview and obliterate the rest.

I see the “people obliterating people” thing at play in India. In the same spaces (I’m talking of streets or neighbourhoods here), you have completely parallel and distinct societies that live on with very little knowledge or understanding of each other. Literally invisible to each other.

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On The Media: Hyperlocal and Numbers [en]

[fr] Trois sujets à écouter sur On The Media: un sur le journalisme hyperlocal (qui me fait penser au Bondy Blog -- d'ailleurs, pourquoi a-t-on le Lausanne Bondy Blog et non le Renens Bondy Blog? mystère...), et deux sur l'abus de chiffres dans les médias et le chiffre magique 50'000.

I’ve started catching up with my On The Media backlog. Here are two pieces I suggest you listen to.

Is Hyperlocal the Future of News?

This reminds me of Bondy Blog. Started by a bunch of Swiss journalists covering civil unrest around Paris in 2005 from the Paris suburbs themselves, it has since then been handed over to young local reporters. Bondy Blogs have sprouted since then in various cities, including Lausanne and Vernier — though I remain convinced that the Lausanne Bondy Blog should be the Lausanne Bondy Blog at all, but the Renens Bondy Blog. Isn’t it about putting the local spotlight on the underpriviledged suburbs?

Are Bondy Blogs hyperlocal?

Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts followed by Prime Number

You probably know my distaste for numbers and our obsession with metrics (including in the media, which is the topic of these two pieces). Refresher: my rant about un-scientific Twitter metrics, fan-quoting Seth Godin, and Suw‘s heartily recommended “Metrics” series: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4. (I’m not dead against analytics, though. Just cautious.)

Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts: The Politics of Numbers in Global Crime and Conflict is a book, and it’s now in my Amazon shopping basket.


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On The Media: Discovering a New Podcast I Like [en]

[fr] Deux podcasts en anglais que je recommande chaudement: RadioLab, une émission scientifique, et On The Media, une émission sur les médias.

You may or may not know that my number one podcast and radio show love is RadioLab. It’s an incredibly smart and funny science programme, and I’ve finally worked through the whole backlog of episodes I had sitting on my iPhone. That’s a lot of hours of listening (and pedaling on my exercise bike in the morning, which is where I do most of my podcast listening).

If you are not listening to RadioLab yet, trust me — subscribe in iTunes right now, you won’t regret it.

The problem I have now is that I’ve run out of RadioLab episodes to listen to, and they “only” air a new episode every two weeks. For somebody who aims to spend 30 minutes a day pedaling on a bike going nowhere with interesting talk stuff in her ears, well, that leaves quite a few hours a week to fill in. Enter On The Media, a one-hour weekly show about… yeah, you guessed, the media (and related things).

I discovered On The Media because I was pointed to their episode Facing the (Free) Music, about the music industry and the internet, you know. I thought it was very good. Actually, you might want to download the MP3 directly or even stop reading and listen right here.

I’ve listened to a couple of other episodes so far and would like to highlight a few pieces I particularly liked. You can even read the transcripts by clicking on the links below if you don’t feel like listening.

Take For Granted [download] is about the reactions to the possibility that news services could be subsidized by state grants. I found it interesting, because I don’t think we have this prejudice against government-subsidized news here. Quite on the contrary, I would tend to consider a state-funded radio or TV station as more likely to be high quality than a private one. I think there is a cultural issue here — but maybe I’m just naive. If news has never been a commercially viable product, then it needs to be funded, and I’d rather have the state behind it rather than big corporations.

News Ex Machina [download] is about Demand Media (heard of them? I hadn’t) and the way they work to be one of the biggest (if not the biggest) content producers online. Here’s a brief summary of how they do it: monitor search keywords; figure out if there is already a lot of content for them (bad); figure out if there is a lot of demand to advertise targeted on them (good); search for other keywords frequently used in combination with those top keywords; bring in a human being to create a headline out of those words; bring in another human being to write an article based on that headline. I know why this chills my spine: because it’s not content creation anymore, it’s pure SEO. It’s keyword stuffing at such a level that the whole content is just stuffing. Sure, one can argue that it is providing searchers with what they’re looking for — but maybe, sometimes, there is something to be said with not finding what you want, and finding something else instead. (Cue A Perfect Mess riff.)

Shot of Fear [download] is a good example of what happens when we mistake correlation for causation, and once the cat is out of the bag, it’s hard to stuff it back in. (“Girl dies of unrelated heart condition” doesn’t stand a chance once “Girl dies after taking vaccine” is doing the rounds.)

Infant Mortality [download] is a walk through history to look at the occasions “baby killer” was used to discredit adversaries (and not only on abortion issues). And what it means when you brand somebody as a “baby killer”.

Star Search [download] is about star ratings, and how these are always way too positive (they average around 4.3 stars out of 5). Interesting to know, given how ubiquitous this type of rating is!

Happy listening!

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