What is stigmatised knowledge?
Most conspiracy theories exist as part of stigmatised knowledge. Stigmatised knowledge uses “knowledge claims that have not been accepted by those institutions we rely upon for truth validation.”
This means believers use the rejection of claims by scientists, the government, or doctors as “proof” that what they believe is real. Rejection by authorities is a sign that a belief must be true. Conspiracy theorists also often claim they have access to actual knowledge that the media won’t publish.
Conspiracy theorists use the “I know something you don’t narrative,” to erode trust in the media, or the factual argument to make their beliefs seem more plausible.
Why do people believe in stigmatised knowledge?
One research paper suggests that having access to information that no one else has makes us feel unique. A 2017 study found that believing in conspiracy theories satisfied people’s need for uniqueness. The research found “the tendency to believe in conspiracy theories was associated with the feeling of possessing scarce information about the situations explained by the conspiracy theories.”
What’s wrong with sharing stigmatised knowledge?
Stigmatised knowledge used to be easy to spot. There was a clear line in the sand regarding what is and isn’t a conspiracy theory. Alien abductions, Big Foot, faking the Moon landing are examples of widely known conspiracies theories.
In the past few years, stigmatised knowledge has made its way into the mainstream media. Covid misinformation is one of the most pervasive examples of stigmatised knowledge.
There have been conspiracies that vaccines have killed more people than they have cured, and mandates are part of a plan to strip citizens of their rights.
Of course, in reality, there is plenty of evidence that vaccines work and mandates are one way to slow the spread of the disease. Often this information relies on believers claiming to have information that the Government would never tell you or the media would never report.
The sharing of stigmatised knowledge undermines our media system and helps the spread of misinformation.
Why should I care about stigmatised knowledge?
Conspiracy theories aren’t the only thing to wary of when sharing information online. There are many industries where unsubstantiated facts are readily shared without proper validation. The fitness and weight loss industry are particularly bad for sharing information “that no-one will tell you” and making claims that aren’t verified.
If your business has a social media account, be wary of what you share online. Don’t run ads that use clickbait in the titles or contain links to information that can’t be verified. If something can’t be verified by a trusted source (the media, scientists, peer reviewed research, the government) than it’s probably not legitimate and could fall under ‘misinformation.’
False claims can erode public trust in your business and ruin your brand image in the long term and it doesn’t have to be ‘conspiracy theory’ level to cause damage. Remember when Ribena claimed their juice had more vitamin C than oranges? As it turned out those claims weren’t backed up by science and the Commerce Commission held them accountable.
If you are tempted to share a post that contains new information that could be false, ask yourself:
- Am I just mindlessly accepting incoming content without adequate scrutiny of source, facts and format?
- Am I believing this because cold facts warrant it or because it feels good to believe it?
Before you post information that makes any sort of claim, ask yourself:
- Are my claims supported by a valid source?
- Am I giving readers all the information they need to make an informed opinion?
How to share information ‘the right way’
We understand the desire to create hype around your product or business and there are so many ways to do this that don’t mislead your audience.
- Make sure you can back up any claims you make. For example, if you promote a product as “award winning” you need to be able to prove this (and some forms of media require proof of these claims.)
- Talk about the benefits and features of your product or service. Ask your customers what they love about your products and how it makes their lives better. Use these findings in your advertising.
- Use numbers that can be verified. Everyone loves a good number when it comes to advertising but make sure you’re not inflating these figures.
- Avoid sensationalist information. This can make customers feel like they have been misled, especially if your claims are unlikely to happen to the average user of your product.
Customer trust is important for business growth and using unverified claims to sell your products or spread unverified information can be damaging for your business. Avoid spreading misinformation by being careful about what your business posts online.
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