Mail Bag: Answering your questions
Issue 38: How to include people with 'invisible identities'; the benefits of social media; The Power of Us goes international
A few weeks ago, we wrote about trying to turn our newsletter into a more dynamic interaction with readers. To hear your questions and ideas, and engage more deeply. We have finally had time to go through some of the comments and questions we’ve received (please keep them coming!). We decided to lightly edit for clarity and brevity, as well as to keep senders anonymous.
I’m curious if you deal with heterogeneous group interactions anywhere in your work. What I mean by this is, for example, some groups are strongly organized around visual or ethnocultural markers of identity, while others are not. This is a problem when a society wants to help marginalized groups, but cannot because they are not visible as other groups are. I’d be very curious to hear your thoughts as this relates to us imagining a future and trying to craft new identities that can bind people together. —Charles
This is an important question and one that resonates with our own experience. For instance, Jay was a first generation college graduate. Looking back on the experience, it’s easy to see how this type of ‘invisible’ identity can be easy to hide. To avoid any stigma, it was easy enough for Jay to avoid bringing attention to this issue and simply try to fit in.
Of course, we know there are often many barriers to first generation college students. According to the First Generation Foundation, for example, “after six years, only 11 percent of low-income, first-generation students had earned bachelor’s degrees compared to 55 percent of their more advantaged peers.”
To address this set of challenges, colleges have started to reframe this identity to reduce stigma, as well as provide additional supports. For instance, New York University has implemented a “Proud to be First” initiative that offers mentorship from other first generation students and faculty, a supportive professional network, and access to resources.
Reframing the first generation student status as an identity around which to mobilize has some similarities to the efforts within LGBTQ+ community and the enormous success of Gay Pride and related initiatives to de-stigmatizing an often ‘invisible’ identity — providing a sense of solidarity and a rallying for change.
We think that much more could be done at institutional and societal levels to understand the challenges certain groups face and provide the resources for them to flourish. Of course, part of the process here is also crafting a broader sense of identity that no longer stigmatizes people from marginalized groups and supports them to expressing their true identities at school, work, and in the world, without fear of discrimination.
Many societies have made progress in this regard. For instance, American’s opinions towards same-sex marriage have changed dramatically over the past two decades.
In response to our newsletter on the Facebook Papers and the impact of social media on intergroup conflict, we received this comment:
I think these are all pretty significant outcomes and insights about social media, thank you. I want to add some comments of my own. On social media de-humanization is so easy with fake accounts, nick-names and everything else. It is too easy to see hateful and twisted comments—it is all on your home page.
But, despite the bad effects of social media, I think there is also a good one, especially in a divided country. In my country, without social media, people lack knowledge and access to the truth about news and developments, because the government in power keeps so many things under wraps. If the only source of information is national TV, there they are just denying the facts. Thanks to social media, we can learn about the truth.
For example, if we stopped using social media before an election, we wouldn't be able to learn about the votes that were stolen and the electoral fraud because it wouldn't be allowed on television. I believe we have to find a happy medium with regard to social media—it’s costs and it’s benefits. —Ecem
This is an important point. There is a growing body of evidence that some social media platforms are fostering division and conflict in the US and abroad. On Friday, 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa used her acceptance speech to express alarm about threats to democracies and called for greater accountability for social media companies, which, she claimed, are dividing and radicalizing societies. “These American companies controlling our global information ecosystem are biased against facts, biased against journalists. They are—by design—dividing us and radicalizing us.”
We have published a review of research on this issues, finding clear evidence that social media platforms are associated with polarization and misinformation. That said, however, we also found that the effects of social media are mixed. For instance, one study in Bosnia found that Facebook might help expose people to different perspectives if their real life social networks are homogenous (i.e. not diverse).
Other research has found that being on social media can increase political knowledge—and this might be especially critical in countries where the government is suppressing journalism and free speech, while hiding corruption. This is why we agree that social media is not only here to stay, but is likely critical to fostering global democracy.
Our goal in being critical about the downside of social media is to educate the public and encourage leadership at these organizations to build better platforms. We believe that the right way to understand the influence of these social media platforms is that, in polarized societies especially, they function as an accelerant of social conflict than its ultimate cause. To combat this and to better understand the problem, social media companies should share their data with experts and use their insights to engineer platforms that foster a more inclusive, democratic world, rather than one in which dictators can completely control the flow of information.
Please let us know if you like this mailbag format. And if you have any questions or thoughts, please add them to our comments section and we will respond to your questions in future newsletters.
Research round up
Data from the 2020 United States census reveals a more diverse and racially complex nation than at any point in history—among other changes, the percentage of the population identifying as multiracial has more than tripled (to 10%) since 2010.
This article from FiveThirtyEight argues that the census still misses important identities, noting that, “the hodgepodge of classifications we have now still doesn’t fully encapsulate how many Americans identify… Naming and acknowledging minority populations is important for giving various communities power…but the census has a long history of limiting the political clout of nonwhite populations. It’s also not clear what the census is prioritizing today”.
As part of a large collaborative team led by Alex Haslam, we have a new pre-print analyzing the identity leadership dynamics of the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol.
Dr Sara Vestergren @SwedishProtestsOur new Pre-print, 'Examining the plausibility of Donald #Trump 's denial of responsibility for the 2020 assault on the US Capitol: a dual-agency model of identity leadership and engaged followership' is now available here: https://t.co/GvISfhwH7i #StormingTheCapitol https://t.co/krDdH58E9D
A new review by Frank Kachanoff and colleagues looks at what happens when groups feel their collective freedoms have been threatened—including how feelings of restricted autonomy can mobilize disempowered groups, as well as increased resistance to change among members of powerful groups.
The Power of Us goes international
We were thrilled to hear this week that our book is being picked up by a publisher in Korea! In addition to the United States and Canada, The Power of Us will be published in the UK, China, Japan, Brazil, Mongolia, and Korea. When we can finally travel internationally again, it’s going to be a wonderful book tour! We will share more details as these translations hit bookstores so you can find one in your home country.
In other good news, The Power of Us was listed at one of the most notable books of the year by the Behavioral Scientist Magazine…
…and was listed as a finalist for the best behavioral science book of the year by the Habit Weekly newsletter (along with several other excellent books we’ve covered in our newsletter).
Dominic was interviewed on the Purple Principle Podcast and explained the fascinating story about the town of bent necks, where loyalty to different shoe companies determined where you could eat and who you could date.
Jay was on the Digging Deep Podcast, where he discussed how our favorite beer is woven into our social identities and how we use these identities to select our friends (and enemies!).
If you have any thoughts or questions, please leave it below. We might include it in a future newsletter. And in case you missed the last newsletter, you can read it here: