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Spelling errors and conspiracy theorists: The importance of human context

With the rise of technology and the rapid development of algorithm and AI capabilities, we are susceptible to a dangerous form of tunnel vision, according to Gillian Tett. In her recently published book (Anthro-Vision, a New Way to See in Life and Business) and an article in the Financial Timesshe talks about the importance of the human factor when trying to understand organisations, individuals, and markets. Something that we take to heart here at TrendsActive.

Big organisations often base their decision making on a large body of quantitive data. It is hard to blame them, but as Tricia Wang describes: For Big Data to be analyzable, it must use normalizing, standardizing, defining, and clustering, all processes that strips the data set of context, meaning, and stories. To a point where we have completely lost the human context. What we gain in scale, we lose in depth. And if anything, last year has made us abundantly aware of the importance of human context. 

Last year we became increasingly aware of the risks conspiracy theories pose on our society. Hence why Jigsaw, a unit within Google, set out to study the human context behind conspiracy theorists. Instead of analysing data or sending surveys, they sent a group of anthropologists. They talked to 61 people who believe in, and actively propagate, conspiracy theories and came back with some pretty interesting findings. For example; subjects indicated that they perceive polished, professional websites as something that would be created by the elite to influence them, while researchers always assumed that trustworthy news sources ought to look professional and formal to represent authority. Conspiracy theorists are more likely to attribute authenticity and trustworthiness to sources that are unpolished and contain spelling errors, in stark contrast with the sources that aim to reach and inform them.

This is the kind of information that is very hard to get from a survey, yet incredibly valuable. To get to the bottom of the why behind people’s behaviour, it helps to utilise some of the academic fields that are solely focused on understanding people, such as psychology, sociology, or anthropology. Unfortunately brands routinely ignore a treasure cove of information about the drivers behind human behaviour. Often for the reason that academic research is unfit for direct practical implementation, tough to get to the bottom of and time consuming. At TrendsActive we do it for you. For almost 20 years we have been monitoring human needs and drivers behind the empirical manifestations—so brands can be more meaningful in the lives of their customers. Curious to know where you can add relevance based on your customers behaviour and needs? Check out our services.