Another good one by Copenhagen-based professor of philosophy Vincent F Hendricks – recently labelled ‘the voodoo child of social media criticism’ (by me, a couple of secs ago, but let’s cut the details). Railing against social proof again. This time: Democracy in danger.

Check out this great piece on ‘likes’ and ‘upvotes’, infostorms and post-factual democracy. Or read my absurdly abbreviated version.

Here’s how it goes. Hendricks’s article in five steps, a) to e).

a) Humans are easily influenced by others. We’re a bit dumb sometimes. It’s called herding effect. Some people even imitate prominent suicides (ha, can you explain that, Darwin?) Hendricks:

Honestly, how many of us don’t just rely on what the internet says about some government ruling rather than looking at the original document?

b) In our brave new new media world, you and your PR-agency can give opinion X a kickstart by upvoting it right from the start. And then popularity generates more popularity. No matter how silly or unbalanced or opportunistic opinion X is. Herding 2.0, in other words. The tendency, at least, was recently demonstrated in an experiment related in the world’s most prestigious scientific journal SCIENCE. Honestly.

50 million Elvis fans

50 million not lonesome tonite. They’re RIIIIIGHT (shriiiiieek!) This is what I found checking around for social proof. Quite interesting examples from bunnyfoot.

c) This is a problem. 1) Because kickstart-upvoting is, er, not not done by political campaigners, spin-doctors etc. 2) because there are fewer and fewer correctives the more we rely on crowd-based opinion generation. Hendricks:

Relying more and more on social media, crowd-based opinion generators and other online “democratic” rating, comment or information acquisition systems not only makes such side-tracking possible and more likely to occur; it also increases the numerical reach of the spreading of false beliefs, be that intentional or not. This is known as an infostorm.

d) We might just get a new brand of politician, as a consequence. In fact, we might have it already: Post-factual democracy. Hendricks:

Infostorms may be generating a new type of politics: the post-factual democracy. Facts are replaced by opportune narratives and the definition of a good story is one that has gone viral. Politics is simply about maximising voter support.

e) This is, once again, er, slightly problematic. Because, and despite postmodernist claims to the contrary, …

… what is viral is not necessarily true, and what is true is not necessarily viral. Maximising votes does not require facts, but then again voter maximisation does not add up to robust democracy. If democracy doesn’t have access to reliable sources of information and instead relies on narratives and social influence then there is no way of distinguishing between junk evidence and facts. Without the ability to make this distinction we may be welcoming the post-factual democracy. Not a pretty picture. (Hendricks)

Moral I: Elections coming up in Sweden. Check your politicians for post-factuality-factor. It’s fun! One-issue-politicians are easiest.

Moral II: Can someone start to grow more socially awkward, bulldog-minded, question-asking-, fact-checking old-school-journalists, please?

Call to Action I: Please go to, give Vincent a like and comment favourably. So people begin to think he’s right. It’s called social proof, hehehe.

P.S.: Elvis’s hips don’t lie.


Scientists sit in the ivory tower. Normal people live in the real world. Well, not anymore. Nowadays, scientists sit in huge underground vaults housing large hadron colliders, author articles with 3,500 authors, calculate their Hirsch-factor. And normal people live in bubbles.

Check out Vincent F. Hendricks on The guy’s so brilliant I agree with him. And there’s something special about him: Vincent F Hendricks does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this (=his) article, and has no relevant affiliations. Remarkable. Why is he writing, then? He’s promoting this book. But that’s okay.

Back to content. Hendricks speculates that there’s so much content out there that everyone is in danger of becoming trapped in a personal bubble (okay, simplifying a bit here, but not much). Hendricks:

Filter bubbles, for example, happen when the information we receive online becomes so tailored to our existing areas of interest that we are no longer exposed to views that challenge us. If we only follow like-minded people on Twitter, we start to live in a bubble in which counter-opinions don’t feature.

Of course, that’s not the way how it looks like to you in the bubble. In the bubble, you see a lot of counter-opinions. But they either differ only mildly from your opinion. Or clearly are the opinions of complete idiots who… just… didn’t… get… IT.

You’re surrounded by friends united in bashing the idiots.

And so is everyone else.


Creating a self-sustaining bubble is the first rule of successful propaganda. Sometimes whole countries are gigantic filter bubbles.

Oh no, here’s a disturbing thought. Vincent Hendricks is the Jimi Hendrix of social media criticism (= Jimi Hendrix was some guitar player back in the 60ies; #badjoke). What if our everyday lives are not necessarily becoming more scientific and rational, more in touch with ‘reality’, more enlightened, due to social media? What if the brave new social media world offers unprecedented opportunity to capture people… in bubbles? Not forever, of course. Only long enough to fleece them. The GFC 2008/2009, just the beginning? Hendricks:

Across spheres, from science to your wardrobe, bubbles share similar structures and dynamics. The term “bubble” is no longer confined to just financial movements. In the information age, it can refer to irrational, collective, aggregated behaviour, beliefs, opinions or preferences based on social proof in all parts of society.

“Social proof” is the word here. Social proof is how you’re fleeced. Millions of flies can be wrong. Shit may not be good for you. Hendricks goes on:

Over in finance, informational cascades have become a major factor in the generation of bubbles, where, as economist Harold Vogel notes, “individuals choose to ignore or downplay their private information and instead jump the bandwagon by mimicking the actions of individuals acting previously”. If you think about your own actions every day, you might uncover some uncomfortable truths about the bubbles you live in.

This behaviour is called “the game of greater fools”, by the way. Tulip Mania, 1637. Look it up and impress people at cocktail parties.

Moral I: The habit to actively seek out alternative explanations for data, even if they contradict your pet theory, jar with your expectations or do not fit smoothly with everyone’s politically correct opinion, GOD BEWARE! is one of the great achievements of human history. It’s one of the pillars of science.

Moral II: Check your bubble.

Moral III: Don’t overdo it. There are idiots out there. People are not necessarily right because they’re alone with their opinion.

P.S.: Higgs Bosons don’t lie.

The editorial board has given me a new task: end, come up with some depressing news. Now that’s a job for me. Yup, I’m on it. Here we go.

Recently I’ve been reviewing research that paints a picture of the Millennials that is, erm, not so nice. Someone cleverly commented that yes, Gen Y is Gen X “with self-esteem on steroids.” (thanks, Emilia). But let’s be fair here: Gen Y needs self-esteem. In spades. Not so much in Northern Europe, but in the South and East.* So if you’re unbearably self-confident right now, take a look at these youth unemployment figures. Data provided by Eurostat, but selected by me.

Youth Unemployment

Go here to check. It’s a somewhat arbitrary selection, but it includes the three largest national economies, plus Sweden, plus some interesting cases.You get the picture: 55.7% in Spain, 59.2% in Greece, 25.2% in France, 23.3% overall. Sweden, erm, not so nice either.

Some de-depressing in order here. You can’t compare countries directly since much depends on the education systems; some are probably downright designed to obscure youth unemployment. And it’s important to understand precisely what the numbers mean. 25% youth unemployment rate (not ratio) in a country does not mean that 1 out of 4 youngsters are out of a job. Many young people are not on the labour market because they are in education, some are in education and employed (that’s you, I guess); but yet again others are in education and unemployed. Here is a pretty good explanation by Eurostat:

But figures in the fifties…?


*) Ah, yes, and you gotta save the planet. Since we’re not gonna do it.

When it comes to teaching lessons in crisis communication, scholars usually refer to the standard works in the field. One might, for example quote Timothy Coombs, one of the world’s most distinguished researcher in the field and NEMO visiting professor at Lund University (see NEMO Blog for more:, who would suggest that a quick response, consistency and openness might be of high importance when facing a critical situation. Well, it is true. Works like Coomb’s Ongoing Crisis Communication are undoubtedly valuable – for scholars and practioners. And there is much to learn by reading such books. But sometimes, reality shows that there are situations, where the best insights on communication crises are, however, of not much help. The following story is one of those examples.

The incident itself was rather unspectacular. The account of what happened can be packed into two sentences, as an article in the Guardian shows: “On the evening of 19 September last year, Andrew Mitchell, the Tory chief whip at the time, wanted to push his bike through the gates between Downing Street and Whitehall. The policemen at the gate said he couldn’t, and a short altercation ensued, with Mitchell saying ‘I thought you guys were fucking meant to help us.’”

Read More

Been reading a lot by Jean Twenge recently. How to cope with ‘Millennials’ etc. Not 100 percent sure what to think of her research; not an expert here (or anywhere else). But she doesn’t only write popular books like “Generation Me” and “Narcissism Epidemic”. Her research does appear in serious, peer-reviewed journals. And she’s at San Diego State.

What struck me as most surprising is that ‘Generation Me’ has apparently attained such high levels of self-esteem, according to Professor Twenge, that over-confidence begins to be in the way. Here are some quotes from an article, “Teaching Generation Me”:

“… by 2006, two- thirds of students were predicting that they would perform in the top 20% of the population in their adult jobs.” (…)

Ooops?!? It’s first and foremost valid for the U.S., sure, but it’s food for thought nevertheless. Can you recognize yourself in THIS? (my bold print)

“The number of students who expected to work in a ‘professional’ job (including those of teacher, lawyer, doctor or nurse practitioner) also increased, with 75% of high school seniors expecting to work in such a job by the age of 30 years, although only about 20% are likely to do so. The researchers concluded that recent generations had become ‘too ambitious’ and that many of them were setting goals that might not be right for them.”

Okay, let’s not forget what we learned about American college and university professors (Cross 1977): that 94% of them believe themselves to be above average (some must be wrong, to say the least). In the same paper, Twenge goes on (my bold print):

“It is tempting to believe that this is a positive development. American culture teaches that one must be self-confident to be successful. However, self-esteem does not predict success. In fact, being overconfident – a fair description of a group in which two in three people expect to perform in the top 20% – actually leads to greater failure, perhaps because overconfident people do not recognise when they are doing badly and need to improve. One study showed that overconfidence – measured using a narcissism scale – was highest among those who failed a course and lowest among those who earned A-grades.

In another, newer paper (available here), Jean Twenge writes (my bold print):

“However, most studies on self-esteem show no direct link to success (for a review, see Baumeister, Campbell, Krueger, & Vohs, 2003). For example, most of the correlation between self-esteem and academic achievement disappears when outside variables such as family background are controlled. Any relation that is left is explained by achievement causing self-esteem, not by self-esteem causing achievement. Asian American children, for example, have the lowest self-esteem of any ethnic group in the United States (Twenge & Crocker, 2002), yet have the best academic achievement.”

Now that drags my confidence down. Thank you, Jean.

Cross, P. (1977) Not can but will college teaching be improved. New Directions for
Higher Education 17:1–15.

University-staff now receives training on how to deal with the current generation of students, code-named: the ‘millennials’. I received 480,5 hours of training in two days, for example. Must say: found it extremely helpful. Want to share some of the videos we watched (now out on VHS):

Ah, yes. Apparently, these so-called ‘millennials’ have used their social media skills to produce a counter-video that ridicules our staff training. Haha, very funny.

BTW, The guy is never a real millennial, he must be at least 30, don’t ya think?!?

No, honestly. I wonder how many careers have suffered from inter-generational misunderstanding. Certainly mine. I never seem to get students to do what I want them to do. But then: I’m not a Baby Boomer, I’m Generation X. (How do I know? Simple test: To be Generation X, you need to have seen this video on television – and without historical interest. Ach, poor Whitney. RIP)

Here’s a good article: “Teaching Generation Me” by Jean Twenge who has written about a million pieces on the subject. Here’s the cliffhanger: Confidence does not predict success. More about this later.