It is usually recognized how people are influenced by the opinions of others. In social media, where users are given the chance to freely express their thoughts behind screens, consumers might incline to conform to unanimity. This can be prejudicial for society because when consensus overrides individual reasoning, possible errors on consensus are not given the chance to be corrected (Kundu & Cummins, 2013). Conformity on unanimous information not only applies to statements, but also to attributions about other people. Exposure to arguments about ethical or moral issues can potentially prime people to make attributions about other users’ integrity (Domke, Shah & Wackman, 1998). The main purpose of the present paper is to analyze how Facebook Consensus and Priming can alter users’ individual opinions about a certain topic or person.
When conducting their research on social influence the work of Perfumi, Bagnoli, Caudek and Guazzini (2019) does a great job analyzing the two types of social influence: informational and normative influence. Informational influence is the tendency to accept information form others because we think is accurate (Deutsch & Gerard, 1955). Social media consumers rely on unknown users when looking for knowledge on a particular topic or task, even if they don’t have any clues on the unknown user’s credibility; this behavior tends to happen where there is a lack of knowledge on the consumer’s part (Perfumi et al., 2019). Normative influence, on the other hand, is the tendency to accept information from others because of social norm, whether it is to fit in or to feel accepted (Deutsch & Gerard, 1955). Perfumi and her colleagues found that deindividuation, namely people’s tendency to lose self-awareness in groups, reduces the chances to conform to normative influences. They also found that deindividuation is present in states of anonymity. Because the individuals in our study participated anonymously, we discard the effect of normative influence as a predictor of conformity; rather, we focus on unanimity.
Interestingly, the types of judgments regarding moral matters are also a factor affecting conformity. Kelly, Ngo, Chituc, Huettel & Sinnott-Armstrong (2017) found that people are more likely to conform when statements are rational, rather than emotional. In their study, participants were asked to rate how morally unethical was a situation (acceptable or condemnable) depending on the type of judgements read about the situation (emotional or rational). Results showed that people did not conform to emotional justifications, but rather conformed the most to rational statements (Kelly et al., 2017). This important observation is taken into account in our study, in which to prevent this factor from being an extraneous variable affecting our results. In order to achieve this, comments in each of the condition of our independent variable are varied among emotional and rational statements.
Some studies on conformity also look at the physical brain and its responses to positive versus negative reviews in online environments. Guo, Zhao, Zhang, Wen, and Yin (2019) demonstrated in their study that the brain encodes majority opinions and automatically identifies if personal reasoning is consistent or inconsistent with majority views. In Guo and colleagues’ study, thirty-two participants were asked to rate how helpful was a product review and were then given feedback on what other people thought of the presented review, while their brain potentials were being analyzed by the researchers. They found that participants rated positive reviews to be more helpful than negative reviews. More importantly, individuals were faster categorizing a review as helpful when this review was positive rather than negative (Guo et al., 2019). Guo and colleagues’ finding suggested that more cognitive processing is required when reading negative reviews, since they are incongruent with majority opinions.
One particular study did an excellent job at looking to the effects of in person consensus on conformity. Kundu and Cummins (2013) recruited thirty-three participants from the University of Illinois and randomly assigned them to a control and experimental condition. Individuals in both conditions provided their opinions on whether a hypothetical situation was morally correct or incorrect. The difference between the two conditions was that in the control condition participants would give their opinions alone, and in the experimental condition participants would give their opinions along with a group of three confederates. Real participants were always prompted to respond last. Kundu and Cummins (2013) noticed that real participants categorized morally acceptable situations as immoral and morally unacceptable situation as moral. The results concluded that decision making about ethical matters is strongly influenced by the social consensus (Kundu & Cummins, 2013).
In order to gain insight into how social conformity relates to Facebook consensus, we designed a study that shows how other people’s comments on social media can affect a person’s individual opinions. Participants in this study were random strangers, some of them college students, who were asked to give their impressions about a fake Facebook profile. Participants read a post where the Facebook owner, Abigail Foster, shared about a past “immoral” behavior. Consequently, they read either Supportive Comments, Opposing Comments, or Mixed Comments of other Facebook users about the post. Participants would then rate Abigail’s behavior and also indicate their thoughts on Abigail’s personality.
We hypothesized that participants in the opposing comments condition will be more likely to rate Abigail’s behavior as “wrong”, “immoral”, “unethical” and unacceptable” than participants in the supportive comments and mixed comments condition. As our second hypothesis, we predict that participant’s in the opposing comments condition will be more likely to disagree with positive statements about Abigail’s personality than participants in the supportive and mixed comments condition. Examples of positive statements about Abigail’s personality include: “Abigail seems moral”, “Abigail seems competent” and “Abigail seems good-natured”.
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