Bandwagon effects & Mormonism's online comeuppance

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Dr Moore
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Bandwagon effects & Mormonism's online comeuppance

Post by Dr Moore »

It has been a dozen years since Facebook acquired Instagram, and more than two dozen years since Microsoft acquired Hotmail. Hotmail pioneered a marketing model known as "viral marketing." Instagram brought us "influencers" and the social "bandwagon effect," which seeks to create FOMO by demonstrating that the crowd, which cannot be wrong, is already doing something that you should also be doing.

https://fastercapital.com/content/Viral ... -Buzz.html
The bandwagon effect is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when people adopt certain behaviors, ideas or trends because they see others doing the same. This effect can be seen in a variety of settings, such as politics, fashion, and consumer behavior. In viral marketing, the bandwagon effect can be leveraged to create a buzz around a product or service. By getting people to join a movement or trend, businesses can create a sense of excitement and urgency that can lead to increased sales and brand awareness.
The church and its defenders have long sought to counter the seemingly inexorable rise in negative online sentiment, most of which grew up organically as amateur historians worldwide shared and discussed discoveries about the church's "true history" in public boards & blogs -- a.k.a., the "Bloggernacle."

It was not long after I finished graduate work at BYU that David Neeleman (Jetblue) pitched a novel effort on campus called the More Good Foundation, whose primary aim was to combat the obvious problem of online negativity toward the church. The presentation generated enormous buzz. My brother, still a student at the time, called me afterward to share what an incredible project it was. In one of the slides, search results for innocuous queries, such as "Mormon" or "LDS church" or "Joseph Smith" mostly produced links to sites antagonistic to the church. The problem, Neeleman proposed, was that the prioritization of so many negative links was a failure to understand and leverage the algorithms. There were too many anti-Mormon websites and blogs, linked by too many disgruntled exmos, which the algorithms took as a sign that these were the best sources for information about the Mormon church. In short, the enemy was winning based on nothing but a minor technicality. But, good news: a simple solution was proposed to beat the algorithms with science. First, more faith-reinforcing websites and blogs needed to be created. ("social media" was still nascent back in 2005) Second, and more importantly, members needed to share links to those websites, and church-owned sites, on their blogs, message board posts, online profiles (such as Myspace), photoblogs, etc. More links to positive sites = organized defeat of the enemy.

It's been almost 2 decades since More Good launched. Arguably, the effort produced astounding results for quite a while. A 2014 presentation by Ken Krogue, founder of InsideSales.com, reported mostly positive or neutral search results for "Mormon" (87%), "Joseph Smith" (78%) and "Latter-day Saints" (94%).

Over these years, the church and its subsidiaries have become increasingly active as direct participants on social media. But not without effort. I have it on good authority (from a member of the media who was given a tour) that an entire floor of the COB is dedicated to employees involved with external marketing. Here, dozens of full-time employees manage social media accounts, moderate comments, watch for negative press and interact with online profiles on a near real-time basis 365 x 24. The church expends enormous effort to manage its public image. (According to my source, multiples more employees are dedicated to that function than at ANY of the largest multinational corporations he's met with in his long career.)

Church social media accounts are notorious for being heavily moderated. Not only for standard violations (spam, cursing, or obviously offensive comments), but expressions of dissent are carefully redacted to ensure a safe space for believers to warm their hands around the fire of truth. To disagree with the church's position on one of its social media accounts, one has to take extra care not to write things that could threaten testimonies. (No doubt, first the SCMC retains screenshots and profile links)

So imagine what it must have taken for the church's moderators to receive instructions to stop deleting comments with strongly-worded dissent when an Instagram post about how the church has "so broadly given power and authority to women" went viral. Thousands of women commented in disagreement. Many of these comments were initially deleted, fueling even more virality and boldness. I can't stress enough how angry this incident made several women in my ward -- the hypocrisy of claiming to empower women while actively silencing the same women. The bandwagon effect brought untold numbers of women to make their first online expression of dissent, there or in other forums. The incident has received national coverage, including SLTrib, NYTimes, Axios, Radio West. To be sure, someone very high up at church HQ must have realized pretty quick that the damage done by deleting comments would be greater than that done by allowing thousands of women's dissenting voices to remain enshrined on the church's own Instagram account. As Happy Gilmore said, "Talk about your all-time backfires!"

People, women especially, are becoming far less afraid to speak out. It’s a classic bandwagon effect. And it’s one the church may never be able to put back in the bottle.

Incredibly, not one of the First Presidency has yet commented on any of this. A single comment by J. Anette Dennis, who delivered the offending talk (about the church empowering women more than any other religion) appeared 6 days ago on the offending Instagram post. In it, she writes, "An excerpt from my remarks generated responses from thousands of sisters. Thank you for reaching out and taking the time to share your feelings. As we read through the comments, we were moved by some of the experiences you’ve had. As a member of the General Relief Society Presidency, I can assure you that we and our Church leaders are listening and learning from the things you have shared with us. We love and pray for you and all our sisters everywhere. Please know we hear you, we need you, and we care."

Well, that sounds nice. I am sure she and the men she reports to have learned a lot from all this. Probably not the learnings Sister Dennis implies. Certainly not enough to offer an apology.

Beyond this one fiasco of a social media post, the church seems to have opened the door to an online comeuppance. Members who have silently endured the gaslighting, toxic patriarchy, shame culture, and financial dishonesty, are coming out of the woodwork to make their voices heard.

Today, for instance, over at the Instagram account for the Church News, which typically gets 10-20 comments per post. A new post, remembering Nelson's "Think Celestial" talk in Oct. 2023 conference, has already received over 500 comments. Most of these are in protest of Nelson's divisive teaching to "Never take counsel from those who do not believe." A few samples of those comments are below:
‘Never take counsel from those who do not believe’ stands as possibly the most exclusionary words I’ve heard from our Church pulpit. It discounts the BILLIONS of wonderful humans who have so much to offer me and the rest of us. 💔. I have learned multitudes from the counsel of my friends who don’t believe the same as I do.

this is what broke my shelf - thinking celestial meant rejecting my loved ones because they would hold me back from entering the highest glory. so if anything this quote is consistent with doctrine - separation of families because not everyone was obedient. heartbreaking

What about all the children with non-member parents? Should they “never” take counsel from their parents?
My kids have a mom who has left. It is her God-given right to teach them what she believes, and my God-given right to teach them what I believe and spouse had the God-given responsibility to support and respect each other. There are so many members in mixed faith marriages right now who are struggling so hard and this quote from President Nelson was the opposite of helpful.

I’ve been out of the church and pretty quiet about it for 7 years. This talk was hurtful. I am willing to live in the nuances of hearing and being objective to others. It hurts that I am not given the same grace.

The plug for personal revelation right after the counsel to not listen to anyone but prophets is a bold move. Is bold the right word?

This quote left me sitting with a lot of hurt and anger after it was spoken across the pulpit to worldwide members in October. Out of my immediate family, only 3 of my siblings attend out of the 7 of us kids. How dare I not take counsel from those that I love most?! They are wise and they have good hearts and can see things differently and in a better light that I can at times. I wasn’t about to cut off all opportunities to ask them for advice all because President Nelson said so.

For anyone who sincerely believes that this church strengthens families, please pay close attention to what Nelson said here and consider how damaging his words were/continue to be.

As a mom of 3 children who still attend with my husband, this was one of the most hurtful talks I think I’ve ever heard and one I don’t think is in good taste to continue to quote.
So much for moderation, eh?

This is the beginning of... something. I wonder how long until all comments are withheld from church social media?
Philo Sofee
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Re: Bandwagon effects & Mormonism's online comeuppance

Post by Philo Sofee »

Utterly fascinating! Thanks for sharing this! I'm a gonna spread this further with a video if that's all right with you, full credit given to you. I don't do plagiarism.
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Everybody Wang Chung
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Re: Bandwagon effects & Mormonism's online comeuppance

Post by Everybody Wang Chung »

Excellent post. I remember when there were only a few websites/chatrooms that were critical of the Church. I remember JK Williams had one of the few critical websites (Runtu's Rincon) and how he could tell when the SCMC would visit his website due to their IP address.

Fast forward a decade and there are now thousands and thousands of critical websites/channels/chatrooms. Reddit's xmormon channel alone has 300,000 members. The SCMC is pretty useless at this point, unless they have several thousand employees that can scour the internet everyday.

I predict the Church's Instagram page will stop allowing comments. The alternative is to heavily moderate the comments, further alienating Mormon women who already feel they have little or no voice in the Church.
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Doctor Scratch
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Re: Bandwagon effects & Mormonism's online comeuppance

Post by Doctor Scratch »

Great post, Dr. Moore. The tidbit about The More Good Foundation was especially interesting: I have always viewed it as a fundamentally Mopologetic organization—basically, a secretive funding arm that would help finance and enable things like FAIR, or Allen Wyatt’s infamous cyber-squatting. More recently, Louis Midgley claimed that money from the Church itself was “filtered” through The More Good Foundation then handed over to Book of Mormon Central, FAIR, and Interpreter.

You have to wonder: why all the backroom manipulation? Is this really how Jesus Christ wants his Church to operate?
"If, while hoping that everybody else will be honest and so forth, I can personally prosper through unethical and immoral acts without being detected and without risk, why should I not?." --Daniel Peterson, 6/4/14
drumdude
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Re: Bandwagon effects & Mormonism's online comeuppance

Post by drumdude »

Excellent post. The Mormon church can choose to be more like Scientology, or more like the Catholic Church.

I find it sad that they choose to go the Scientology route. There is nothing to gain and everything to lose.
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Gadianton
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Re: Bandwagon effects & Mormonism's online comeuppance

Post by Gadianton »

While it's not surprising, I never knew the Church was using the CCP playbook for managing their online image.

I didn't know about RTM's talk, "Never take counsel from those who do not believe," lol, that's hilarious. Aren't the fifteen advised by an army of lawyers and consultants, many or most of which aren't Mormon?
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Rivendale
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Re: Bandwagon effects & Mormonism's online comeuppance

Post by Rivendale »

Apparently everyone is able to fill out this survey regarding media. https://research.churchofjesuschrist.or ... LA_ht1R-Joseph Smith
Philo Sofee
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Re: Bandwagon effects & Mormonism's online comeuppance

Post by Philo Sofee »

Rivendale wrote:
Wed Apr 03, 2024 1:42 am
Apparently everyone is able to fill out this survey regarding media. https://research.churchofjesuschrist.or ... LA_ht1R-Joseph Smith
Wow, I got one. Should I take the survey? And do I dare be honest?
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Re: Bandwagon effects & Mormonism's online comeuppance

Post by Moksha »

Philo Sofee wrote:
Wed Apr 03, 2024 4:46 am
Wow, I got one.
Kerry, thank you for your podcast on this very thread. The Church got a very visceral response from the women members over Sister Dennis' gaslighting. It was one BS too far.

In the past, LDS women would have bent their heads and said, "Thank you, sir. May I have another." This time they shouted, "We're not going to take this anymore."
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Re: Bandwagon effects & Mormonism's online comeuppance

Post by Moksha »

Imagine how Mormons in Germany will be forced to look down on their countrymen who enjoy Germany's new recreational pot legalization.
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