Your social media feed and the snow job technique

Motto: “Indignation is still bondage.”

Bertrand Russell

In negotiation, there is a hardball technique called “the snow job”, which consists of flooding the other party with so much information as to overwhelm them and make it nearly impossible to sift through it all. The consequence? The other party will no longer be able to tell which piece of information is important/relevant and which isn’t, nor will they be able to easily locate the precise information they need, which obviously impairs the party’s ability to pursue their interest and reach a workable conclusion. It often paralyzes decision-making as it interferes with the negotiator’s ability to focus on what’s truly important in order to reach an agreement.

Not unlike your social media feed. Combining dopamine-releasing novelty and anticipation with a ceaseless flow of information, social media can easily lead to addiction and overload. Once you log into your social media account, you are a captive audience, and can easily become overwhelmed by the huge amounts of information for which there is no end marker. It’s like a narrative without a coda, if you’re familiar with Labov’s work.

In this bottomless ocean of content, the first battle is for the most arresting headline or abstract, and for the most skilled storytelling. This quest for irresistible texts leads to the use of increasingly hyperbolic, fast-paced, vivid, and vehement language – the language of controversy and “engagement”. The phrasing contains subtle signals that immediately arouse our emotions – that rile us up, make us feel afraid, worried, sad, excited, fascinated, intrigued, self-righteous, furious, or relieved. And it all happens under the perceived time pressure and the FOMO generated by the constant appearance of new, more recent posts in your feed. Not to mention that all narratives are highly selective (and subjective) in terms of what they choose to include to make a point. You are never getting the whole story.

It’s easy to see how this environment is not exactly conducive to deep reflection and balanced decision-making. It’s easy to see how one narrative can snowball out of proportion and eventually win, despite everyone’s better judgment.

Let’s have a look at Cialdini’s elements of persuasion present by design in these social media feeds:

  1. Liking (you’re very likely to adjust your content and your views to what gets the most likes; we’re all looking for affinity and allies)
  2. Social pressure (what are the others doing? how many likes are they getting? how often are they posting?)
  3. Authority (X claims that Y says that… they must be right, after all, look at the number of followers they have…)
  4. Time pressure (new posts in my feed, I wonder what they’re about, let me check them out)
  5. Consistency (once you’ve committed yourself publicly to a certain view of things, that becomes your position, and positions are non-negotiable. A public position is incredibly hard to change without losing face because you’ve already broadcast it to thousands, so people usually dig their heels in when they’re in the spotlight.)
  6. Reciprocity (I have received information, maybe I should volunteer some of my own).

All six of them! But how many of these things are really relevant for your goals? To counter the devastating effects of a snow job (or of over-communication), try to remain self-aware and understand what psychological levers are being utilized, which of your buttons are being pushed, and for what purpose. Manage your notifications, use filters to limit the information you’re getting to your areas of interest or to what is really useful, look out for inconsistencies, and do not give in to time pressure.

Analyze the language being used, and look out for rhetorical elements such as metaphors, antithesis, lists of three, implicatures, use of pronouns (us vs. them), euphemisms/dysphemisms, active vs. passive sentences, and personification. How is the issue being framed: as a gain or as a loss? People hate losing with a higher degree of intensity than they love gaining, and will usually spring into action to avoid a loss…

All communication has four main functions: to exchange factual information, to build relationships, to reveal something personal about the speaker/writer, and to persuade. Which function does the speaker/writer/channel/broadcaster pursue and prioritize? Are they attempting to manufacture consent about an issue, and if yes, which? Are they articulating ideology, reinforcing and legitimizing it, transforming it, or dismantling it? And why? What’s in it for them? To throw some light on the power architecture, ask yourself three questions: Who decides? Who wins? Who pays?

When making important decisions, take a breather from social media and try to reach your conclusions offline, after talking face to face with experts or people you trust and respect. Body language can reveal so much and is less easily faked than words, texts, and discourses! Meet people from a variety of backgrounds, listen carefully, immerse yourself in different real-world environments to avoid becoming insulated from reality, and check what is truly feasible.

So… are you reading this post in your social media feed? 🙂