Today's episode of Rationally Speaking is sponsored by Give Well, they're dedicated to finding outstanding charities and publishing their full analysis to help donors decide where to give. They do rigorous research to quantify how much good a given charity does. For example, how many lives does it save or how much does it reduce? Poverty per dollar donated. You can read all about their research or just check out their short list of top recommended evidence based charities to maximize the amount of good that your donations can do.
It's free and available to everyone online. Check them out at Give Weblog. Welcome to, rationally speaking, the podcast, where we explore the borderlands between reason and nonsense. I'm your host, Julia Gillard. And with me is today's guest, Professor Timor.
Karen Timyra is a professor of economics, political science and Islamic studies at Duke University. And he's the author of several books, including Private Truths, Public Lies, The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification. This book came out almost exactly 20 years ago now, but I picked it up recently because the concept of preference falsification has kept popping up in articles about recent current events and trends as a particularly useful lens through which to analyse those trends. So I really enjoyed the book and found it very useful.
And that is what we're going to talk about today, tomorrow. Welcome to rationally speaking.
Thanks for the invitation. So first, just a basic overview. What how do you define preference falsification? Preference falsification is the act of misrepresenting one's desires because of perceived social pressures, and it aimed specifically at manipulating the perceptions of others about one's motivations. So what would an example be?
So let me give you a couple of examples that will illustrate two extremes. Suppose I'm with a group of friends and several of them indicate that they're interested in going to see a particular movie. I'm not interested in going to the movies. Perhaps I want to stay home and read a book or I'm interested in going to a ball game or I'm interested in watching another movie. But I think I will if I admit that or if I communicate that I will disappoint them, I'll hurt their feelings, I'll be ridiculed.
So I say, Oh, I'd love to come along. That is one example of preference for education. I've indicated that I'm happy to go to I'm happy to do something that I really would rather not do. Let me give you a more rather different example. Suppose I'm in a dictatorship and the dictator. Announces that there's going to be a huge celebration of his achievements and everybody is going to gather in the town square. I would rather not go to it.
I think the dictator is doing a terrible job. My family's been hurt by the repression, but I go there and I clap as he's speaking. I cheer the regime's achievements to communicate that I am a loyalist. I conform to what others are doing. That's another example of preference allocation.
So in some sense, this concept of preference falsification is one everyone is familiar with. We've all been in that situation of, you know, not wanting to not wanting to object to the plan that our group has made, etc. But where your book really contributes a lot of value, I think is in pointing out some of the consequences of that common phenomenon. So what are one or two of the most common or the most consequential outcomes produced by this phenomenon?
So the most consequential outcome is that inefficiencies persist and outcomes that patterns that many people object to, patterns that make many people uncomfortable persist and they persist indefinitely because people think that if they object, if they make a fuss, if they try to organize an opposition, nobody will follow them. And it's not necessarily the case that you'd have to think that you are actually in the minority in terms of what people really feel that you could you could fail to raise an objection, even if your.
Quite certain that 90 percent of the people feel exactly like you. Why why would you hesitate to object in that situation so you might. Object because. You would you've seen that people who have. Indicated that even that they're that they have doubts, have been crushed, have been punished, have been ridiculed, and you think that other people also understand that. And so they will not step out to defend you even if they secretly admire what you're doing, unless they sense that a critical mass is formed.
Right. And so. You might be willing to you yourself might be willing to. Object and take some risks if 20 percent of a particular group of a particular community. Has expressed opposition is campaigning against the status quo, against some inefficiency, but. You will not if if other people have not gone first. You won't take the first step right now, the others are going others are doing exactly the same calculation, right. And so they're they're refraining from from moving.
So the the negative consequence is that a policy or or regime that many people dislike, that perhaps a majority intensely dislike survives. Out of fear. All right, so tell me if I'm understanding this correctly, it sounds like there are two main components to to the consequences of preference falsification. One is that people may underestimate how many others agree with them because no one else is speaking up and the other is a kind of coordination problem, where even if everyone has an accurate understanding of the sort of general views of the rest of the public, they may not speak up because they can't count on the fact that other people will also speak up and sort of give them cover.
Is that right?
Absolutely. Absolutely. And these are not mutually exclusive. Right. And they may be present in different situations and of course, different at different levels. Sometimes it's the case that you falsify your preference because you really don't know that a lot of people think exactly like you. You might you might decide to go to a movie and agree to go to a movie when, in fact, if you would say, you know, this is really not a good movie.
I've looked at Rotten Tomatoes and it gets a little rating and I've heard about it. And it might be the case that if you had just said that, several other people would have said, you know, let's just reconsider this.
There are other things showing or even thank you. I'm so glad someone said that.
But there are other situations where you can imagine where you actually know that a lot of people have been have suffered from a situation. You know that because of private information, because you've interacted with them privately, you know that they dislike something.
You can be in an organization and at a meeting in a, you know, department meeting and know that there are several of your colleagues who object to, let us say, the chairpersons, a certain something the chairperson is is doing, but that they are afraid to offend the chairperson. And you will then falsify your preference knowing that others are not falsifying, that others are doing exactly the same.
In your book, you sort of you have some ways to model how these factors interact with each other. What are some of the main determinants of whether someone will end up speaking out in light of these factors or main determinants of whether opinion will end up shifting on an issue?
So one one factor is, of course, the information that is available to people that now we may change are the preference we we express because we've just received new information. We thought that a particular government was doing quite well and then the stock market crashed and and unemployment went up and we thought about what they were doing again and we changed our budget. So that's that's one thing. Our preferences may change. Our priv what I call our private preferences may change because we learn things that we didn't know before.
That's one thing. Another factor that influences what preference we're going to express publicly is our sense of how popular alternative positions are, alternative preferences are. And if I learn that now, it is quite acceptable to object to the preying on young women at Hollywood, I will. Express that now I know that this is happening and I know that it's it's acceptable to condemn that sort of predatory behavior. And so I will express a preference that I might not have two years ago.
And a third factor is that I preference for the very active preference. Falsification creates discomfort, and this can vary from individual to individual.
Some individuals, like how much discomfort a given individual feels from falsifying their preferences, will vary depending on the individual. Exactly.
That will depend on the individual and for any given individual, that will vary from context to context. So it's not the the discomfort I feel from going along with a group and ending up in a movie that I would rather have not gone to. That's not going to have a long term impact on my happiness. A little bit of discomfort, but once I get there, I can I'll just go with the flow and I might even enjoy most of it.
On the other hand, there are other types of preference falsification that may lead to enormous guilt and in the long run, also shame. If I if a crime is being committed, if people are being treated terribly, as in the case of Hollywood, in the case of Harvey Weinstein and I have not said anything. I have watched people being people's careers be destroyed because of because they tried to resist. And I haven't said anything. I will feel guilty because of that.
And that's that's another effect. And again, this is how much guilt one feels will vary from one individual to another. Right.
So then the way I'm understanding the model is that we end up finally sometimes getting out of the sort of inefficient, suboptimal equilibrium in which there's some policy that gets publicly supported, even though most people don't actually privately support it. We get out of that because there is some small subset of the population who experience enough discomfort falsifying their preferences or maybe who just don't care enough about maintaining their reputation compared to other people that they end up speaking out. And that sort of triggers a cascade where then other people become more comfortable.
Exactly. It's a combination of those things. And it may also be in addition to what you mentioned, it may also be that the people in the vanguard may also just know more than than others. But it's usually a combination of this, usually when in context, where there's a great deal of repression, typically knowing that the equilibrium is inefficient is not enough to motivate that vanguard to come and trigger the change. In addition, they have to have have a sense that they are they've reached the limit of of their tolerance.
If you think of the Arab Spring, where there was a sudden explosion of opposition to Mubarak, if you think of the demonstrations in Tunisia and in Cairo, many of the people who went to the the squares to demonstrate against their dictators and to call for justice and new policies, they did not have a history of political activism. They were people who had just were just simply fed up with the regime. And once they got the demonstrations going, other people who had who were not fed up to that degree joined in.
And then there were some people who joined in because all along they had they wanted to join a demonstration like this, but they just didn't have enough courage. And then there are other people also learned from something from the demonstration. The very fact that all these people went out to demonstrate made them think again about the policies of the regime and made them look at it in a different light.
So this is a kind of uplifting what we've been talking about. It is a kind of uplifting kind of cascade effect of preference falsification. But there is an interesting kind of inverse of that that you talk about briefly in your book as a way of using your model to explain why new regimes after some revolution or upheaval can be so oppressive, in which correct me if I get this wrong, but in which you say after there's been this tidal shift and suddenly it's become consensus and known consensus that people don't like the regime and there's going to be a shift, then suddenly even the minority of people who did like the regime are going to start pretending that they didn't like it all along and start siding publicly.
They're going to falsify their preference to side publicly with the rebels and the new regime. But the leaders of the rebels know that fact. And so once they acquire power, they have reason to believe that some of the people who are pretending to be loyal to them are just pretending. And so they're going to have a strong interest in ferreting those people out or limiting their ability to to undermine the new regime.
You've put it very well, better than I could have done fear. But with the with one of these two shifts that takes place in the course of a revolution and the course of an uprising, fear changes sides. So the people who had stood on the sidelines all along and hope that the demonstrations would not succeed would hope that the status quo would persist. Yeah, a point comes when they realize that a new world has been born and that the sources of fear are different, power has shifted and they have to now, in self-defense, start falsifying their preferences in a different way.
So than to go back to an example from recent times. There must be people in Hollywood were quite comfortable with the environment that existed who perhaps had behaved like Wainstein and were hoping that the public opinion would not shift, that Weinstein would prevail. But at the moment, given that public opinion has shifted, they will not defend Weinstein. They will, in fact, argue that all along they've been quite disturbed by the predatory behavior of some people and by the tolerance shown to them.
And that's the only reason they had not said anything or they had not acted is because they were afraid of retaliation from people like Weinstein. So that's a good example from recent times of fear changing sides. Right, so there's this one piece of your model that I wanted to poke at in which, well, we touched on this a little bit already in terms of people having varying preferences about how much they care about upholding their reputation by conforming to the consensus versus how much they care about, you know, being true to their own private preferences and not falsifying them.
And that variation in those factors is the is why things can end up changing eventually. I think I was comparing that model to what I see in the world around me. And it seems to me that what's going on is less about variation and people caring about their reputation or or how much they're able to express themselves and more about people having different communities that their reputation is defined in.
So a sort of dissonant opinion or dissenting opinion can be expressed, can find its way into the public sphere, not because someone is willing to to sort of take the bullet and go out there and be the first one to say it. But because the person who ends up saying it cares about their reputation in a smaller community of people who are, you know, contrarians. And so he actually his reputation is bolstered by saying this thing that's taboo in other communities.
Does that make sense? Does that contradict your model?
That makes it? That makes no, that makes a tremendous amount of sense and it makes even more sense today, given the modern information technologies that we have than it would have 30, 40 years ago when we all watched the same television programs and listened to heard the same news from major newspapers. Now, where our sources of information are quite fragmented, our communities are fragmented, we we self-selecting to certain communities and are for that reason, the reputational considerations that drive the preferences we express differ.
Now, problems arise when people who have self selected into different communities online, different communities and social media have to somehow interact with each other. And we live in a country with a single government. We have to protect the United States. We haven't divided the country into a blue country and a red country. We do interact. Sometimes we live in physically and same in the same neighborhoods. And frictions arise when people who have self selected into different communities with different social norms, different political sensitivities, they interact with one another and inevitably the preferences that they expect express come in, come in conflict.
And it's exactly for that reason that in polls now we find that a majority of Americans would prefer not to live in neighborhoods where their neighbors belong to the opposite party. This fact has been, as of course, been communicated a great deal. But why that is the case has not received much attention. The reason, I believe, is that talking to somebody from the opposite party, given that the parties have polarized leads to greater discomfort than it did in the past, it requires greater preference falsification in order to if you're going to get along and if you insist on telling the truth, you're being truthful, not falsifying your preferences.
You've to heard a lot of feelings. Right. And be unpopular or popular at the same time.
And so you can avoid that by going to communities where the majority of the people or maybe all of the people think like you politically.
Yeah, that's actually an interestingly different spin on this phenomenon, because usually when people bemoan the fact that that Americans are self segregating politically more and more now, they frame it in terms of people not wanting to hear opinions that are different from theirs. But there's this flip side, which is people not wanting to make others uncomfortable by speaking their mind, which maybe you could say, well, people shouldn't be uncomfortable when we speak our mind, but in fact, they are.
And so, you know, not wanting to make others uncomfortable is kind of an understandable and not entirely selfish motivation. Absolutely.
And for. Policy standpoint, we might ask whether we should be anticipating all of this discomfort, whether we should be doing things to to reduce that.
OK, I have a multiple choice question for you, assuming we could just completely eliminate preference falsification. So in all of society, people just communicate their true and private preferences. Would how would that affect society and your choices are, a, it would probably make society strictly better off in that there would be upsides and no downsides be it would make society better off on net. So maybe there would be downsides, but they would probably be outweighed by the upsides.
See, the effect would be very unclear. Hard to predict or d it would probably make society worse off on net. I guess there could be and it would be strictly worse. But it sounds unlikely since we've been talking about ways that preference falsification harms society.
Those are the only options I would I would say probably this is an empirical question and I would say probably B or C, there would be certainly disadvantages to living in a society where you always know exactly what other people are thinking. And so if you walk into a room and you're you've just got an address or a new suit and you suddenly see on everybody's foris everybody's foreheads a sign that they don't like your taste, I don't think it would be a better world.
We would find we're disappointed more often that we need to be some preference. Falsification serves a good purpose, just like white lies serve sometimes serve a good purpose.
What if we limit the domain just to preference falsification about public policy as opposed to opinions about individuals? There I think that on balance, we would benefit if we actually if people were forced to reveal their private preferences and we conducted negotiations knowing negotiations over what the what policies were going to select on the basis of what people actually want as opposed to what they are willing to say that they want. There would still be trade offs we would still face at any given policy, like the tax policy that's being negotiated in Washington is going to have the pluses and minuses that going to be winners and losers.
You're going to pay more taxes in in some for some reasons or more more of some kinds of taxes and less of others. And we still have to make the trade offs. But at least we would base that on what people actually think as opposed to what they're saying that their thinking.
Would it then therefore be better to just always have votes be anonymous, like the vote for when the public votes, something that's anonymous? They can choose to share their opinion online if they want, but they don't have to. What about votes like in Congress?
I think that especially given where we are now, I think we would benefit greatly if votes in Congress after all the discussions had taken place in public, that votes were the votes were by secret ballot for exactly the same reason why we have a secret ballot in presidential elections. This is our ballots are our secret because the founders recognize that if the ballot was if our ballots were open, if they could be seen by everyone, that we would be influenced by what's what's popular.
And we wouldn't express ourselves honestly.
But the same applies to our representatives in in Congress, of course, then we couldn't it would be harder to choose who to re-elect because we wouldn't know whether they actually voted in anything in our interests.
That is that is correct. And that is one of the the costs. They could actually tell us that they voted a certain way and they could vote differently. That is the cost of of this. But I think given where we are, I think the the pluses outweigh the minuses. It's worth trying that now. Of course, in many voting bodies, it is possible for members to ask for a secret ballot. It's unlikely, though, in many situations that people will actually ask for a secret ballot when they're on the unpopular side, because the very, very act of asking for a secret ballot would signal that you have something to hide.
Right. So for that reason, you may have to decide in advance whether the vote is going to be secret by secret ballot or by by open ballot at universities. Decisions on promotion decisions are by secret ballot or things that many universities there's there's no rule that all universities have to follow that. But the reason is that they're usually people who are strong supporters of particular candidates and or strong opponents of particular candidates. And and they might be quite influential members, senior members in the department.
And if you're a younger person, you might not want to cross them openly. But in a secret ballot, if you think that a particular position, a particular candidate is deserves a different treatment than the senior professors want you, you may actually go against them. Right?
I was just noticing another potential arguable downside of having less preference falsification, which is the increasing social openness that white supremacists feel empowered to have in the last year or so. I mean, this is like the complaint that a lot of people have about Trump's administration and. I don't know some of the communities online that have kind of brought these strains of American thought out into the open that they've caused, but it's not necessarily the case that there are more people who hold these views and there were 20 years ago.
But it may arguably be the case that people are starting to notice. Oh, hey, I we now have common knowledge that a lot of these views exist. And so I feel much more free to say these things and go on these marches and lobby for these policies in public. And that could arguably be bad.
So that is a danger. On the other hand, it is better to know that such views exist and such communities exist so that we can take measures that will cause those groups to get smaller over time. We need to study what is actually motivating people to adopt those those views.
We're not going to know what to study if they're completely hidden. So that's an advantage that needs to be considered along with the major disadvantage that you mentioned. Right.
So so far, we've been pointing at examples that fit the model of preference, falsification and the kind of consequences that it causes. And we've talked about how, for example, preference falsification explains how we see these cascade effects, where inefficient equilibria can eventually shift because one or two people start to lead the charge and then things snowball like an Arab Spring. And we've talked about how it fits the data that we see of regimes becoming oppressive because they know that some of their supporters just are falsifying their preferences and actually had preferred the original status quo, et cetera, et cetera.
But I'm wondering if there's any harder evidence for this model. Like, I think there is clear, hard evidence that preference falsification exists. Like we can look at anonymous surveys versus public beliefs and see the difference we can look at, actually. Are you familiar with the book? Everybody Lives by Seth Stephens Davidowitz?
I have not read it. Oh, no. OK, yes.
OK, great. Yes, I would be right up your alley. I think he looks at Google search, Google Trends. So the prevalence of different search terms that people look for on Google, and that's kind of a way to get at people's private interests and preferences and beliefs, especially when they search for publicly unpopular things like the N-word.
So I am I am I am familiar with that research, not not the book itself, but there are many articles and so on that makes that point. Yes.
Yeah. So anyway, that seems like good evidence for the existence of preference falsification. But what about hard evidence for the kind of social consequences that your model predicts result from preference falsification so hard?
I'm sure. So if I if I can reformulate your question a little bit. It does preference falsification explains social change is the major. Factor the major phenomenon, or are there other factors? So when we in the context of the change in social norms in the United States regarding sexual harassment, what is ultimately driving that? Could it be that women have over time become more powerful? And now we have women been having played an important role in the labor force for many, many decades.
We have enough women who have a reputation, an impeccable reputation, to stand up to. Harvey Weinstein, is that what ultimately led to a change in norms? I don't think these two explanations would be mutually exclusive. I think certainly the fact that we have many more successful women, that women are contributing more to the labor force, we have women in high places, many more women in high places.
Certainly this is a factor. What preference falsification explains helps us understand is why this norm changed explosively. It's not that all of a sudden in twenty seventeen, the proportion of women in high places tripled. And so for that reason we moved to new norms.
So we we sort of can't explain the the trajectory of change without some model like preference falsification. Is there any alternate model.
Exactly. We cannot explain we cannot explain the the fact that for so many years, so many people, including powerful women and men, were quiet even as they saw what was going on and why suddenly all of them came out and so many people brought complaints against Harvey Weinstein and and many others. That is, we can't get by now. Is there an alternative to the argument that I've that I've given? I think there are disagreements over the roles of various motives or the relative importance of the various motives we talked about before, learning something new about the world or feeling more comfortable to express your already existing private preferences, to publicize your private preferences.
And of course, the expressed the the the expressive factor, the motive to be truthful, because otherwise you'll be uncomfortable. The relative weight of these factors has been a source of controversy, and recent papers have tried by looking at the data in various countries and looking at major shifts that have taken place, have tried to identify the relative weights that these factors hold or carry.
How would you how would you distinguish how would you put a number on the weight of preference falsification versus genuinely changing your mind based on your perception of what other people believe or other?
So one of one of the ways that this is being done is in looking at public opinion data, detailed public opinion data that is collected periodically when a big shift occurs. They are looking at where the who is leading the cascade and who is joining the cascade. Is that the educated or the uneducated? Is it people if this involves a sudden emergence of opposition to the state on something, is it state employees or people who work in the private sector? So you can by looking at who is actually leading the campaign and who is joining later, you can and exactly what their incentives are, what their likely knowledge base is, what they would have known about the policies in question.
Can actually tease out the role that learning and losing fear are playing interesting, but you couldn't still, I assume, disambiguate between people's private beliefs, changing because of social proof versus people's private beliefs, always having been the same, but their public belief changing because they feel like they have more cover.
Now, this you can do in principle if you anticipate that a change is coming, you can actually have experiments done at various times that create four different samples that you have carefully selected, create different conditions, change the amount of information that they are given, change the the setting in which they're asked to express their preferences, the people there in the audience in front of which they're expressing their preferences. And of course, you can always identify whether they're for the preference.
Falsification itself is taking place by asking people something in public and then asking them the same people anonymously what they said. That's true. And so it is possible to do this and we just have to anticipating the need for this type of information. We have to design our surveys accordingly. And start collecting data in various ways, under various conditions, to be able to identify what is what exactly is driving changes in public preferences.
That makes sense. And it is it is, of course, in principle, this is possible and there are in in repressive regimes, secret services often do essentially this by collecting information in settings where they give people anonymity and then asking the same things, in essence, things publicly. They don't share this information with others. This sort of information becomes public after these regimes have fallen and their archives are are opened up to something. So the regimes, the communist regimes in Eastern Europe.
Were aware of this phenomenon, they wanted to know exactly where preference falsification is taking place, where their support was soft, in the sense that people were still supporting the regime but were privately in opposition, were waiting for an opportunity to support the opposition. The regimes wanted to know this, if nothing else, to know which population set to be bought off and where they had to do things differently.
But still, why was it in the interests of people, even on an anonymous survey, to be honest about their preferences, if they knew that the whole reason they were being asked was so that the government could decide which communities to tamp down harder on.
It wasn't always clear that people knew why these surveys were being done. So in the case of East Germany, one of the places where information was collected was a particular school of vocational school in Leipzig. They had been doing this since 1970, and the students just knew that once a year they were asked to fill out a long form. They knew that nothing had ever, never any consequences for anyone. And for that reason, the that must have felt relatively comfortable in answering honestly.
And in fact, leading up to nineteen eighty nine, which is from the Berlin Wall, came down the proportion of people answering, giving questions, giving answers to questions concerning the legitimacy of the East German regime, the performance of communism, the future of communism and so on. The percentage of people giving answers that alarmed the regime went dramatically up in the years leading up to the revolution. So the regime was aware that discontent was building up. Why exactly they didn't prevent it.
That's, of course, another question in itself. We would have to get into the the calculations of the Communist Party in East Germany and their relations with the regime and in Moscow and so on. Interesting, but it is possible. The point is that it is possible to track preference falsification, track changes in its track where it is occurring, and also identify by distinguishing between the types of people whose preferences are changing more than others and identifying those whose private preferences are not changing.
One can actually see what is what is going on. But again, the people who collect this information do not necessarily have incentives to share that information with others. The East German regime had no incentive whatsoever to share with other e the East German public or the world. The information that East Germans were discontent with the regime in East Germany was rising.
Do you think that the Internet has increased or decreased the effect of preference falsification? Like I mean, I can imagine for one thing that people were less deceived. Now it's harder to deceive entire populations about what people's true beliefs are because people can speak anonymously on the Internet. So it's hard, harder to maintain these situations where no one knows that other people agree with them in the population. But I could imagine other countervailing forces as well. What do you think?
Well, the Internet is a brand new technology by historical standards, and we are still learning to use it and states are still learning to control it. When another information technology emerged, there was a long learning period. I'm thinking of the book. When we started printing books, it made it easier for people to to print books and for people to disseminate information. That information, contrary to what the church was teaching, could imagine that people felt freer to express their their views.
The. And they're also that they could find others who share their own views more easily because disseminating information had become easier. Same thing is happening with the Internet we've now discovered or we have a technology that allows us to communicate more easily, that allows us to find others who think like us more easily to form communities, global communities, in fact, who share interests, share perspectives, just like people who shared the same views, found each other through through books.
And they established intellectual societies, people coming from different parts of Europe and other parts of the world through the books that they had written. States, of course, we're interested in where the communities that were forming were doing things that that displease the state. States were interested in disrupting this community building. States at the moment are trying to figure out how they can do this better, how they can actually control the Internet. China is investing huge sums in forming its own networks that its equivalents of Twitter and Facebook and and WhatsApp and so on that are used mostly by the Chinese.
And they're doing this in the hope that they can actually control it. To a degree, their success is succeeding. But anyone from China will will tell you there's still a lot of that. There are many discourses that take place, Chinese social media that are. Do not please the government, right? The Chinese government, so it's so it's anyway, the the point I'm trying to make is that we really don't know how the Internet in the long run will affect the prevalence of preference for.
You're certainly right that it has made people feel freer to express themselves now, but that may not be the case in the future.
Well, in one sense, I do think that there are countervailing effects of like the consequences of expressing an opinion that some people don't like or think is taboo can be greater because the Internet magnifies those consequences. It was harder to be shamed by the entire world, you know, 20 years ago as a private citizen than it is today. It's also actually the thought just occurred to me that. It's harder to have separate audiences on the Internet, so like maybe there are some opinions that you're comfortable sharing with people in your social circle or your community or group of friends.
But if you're talking on Facebook or Twitter or whatever, your audience is just the public. And so someone who has different senses of what's appropriate or legitimate to raise than your inner circles do can just see what you're saying and, you know, try to cause consequences for you because of it.
Except that most people don't realize that when you put something on Facebook that it is actually entirely public. They think sometimes that they're speaking to a closed circle. But anyone in that circle can simply take that information and publicize it. Now, many people operate in circles where year after year, nobody does do that. They have. Ideas or they share ideas that. Go against the violate various norms, social norms, and nothing happens, but the possibility is always there.
I think that the over time people will recognize what you just said, that the Internet is actually posting something on the Internet provides potentially much greater audience for your views, for whatever you have posted than writing something in a newspaper, in hard print. And another thing is that it can travel much faster. It can cannot a storm can erupt on the Internet for a year that ends up destroying your reputation within a few hours. There was the case of a South African businesswoman who made posted some comment before she boarded a plane from Heathrow.
And by the time she landed in Cape Town, her reputation was destroyed. And it was already old news.
What had happened, the reaction to her, whatever she posted, I think it was it was like a tasteless joke about AIDS in Africa or something like that. Justine Sacco, I think, was her name. Oh, yeah.
You have a very, very good, good memory. But that's a very good example of how social media publicizes information.
And the Cascades can work very rapidly on social media and jokes that like, I don't know, in my social circles, it's often obvious that a joke is sarcastic, like a joke is actually anti-racism or anti patriarchy, even though it's sort of superficially pro patriarchy. It's clearly supposed to be sarcastic. But then if someone who doesn't share our sort of background and and shared understanding of what would be a plausible thing for that person to be saying, here's the joke, they may interpret it as being literally pro patriarchy.
This has happened. And I think the Internet just blurs.
It messes up people's expectations of how other people will interpret what they're saying and makes this problem worse, because your audience is not always in your audience is sometimes much larger and much more mixed than you think it is. That's why there are risks of social media. I think the the generation that is coming of age now will be much more cautious on the Internet than the generation that did not grow up with the Internet. And those new social norms will emerge.
So the Internet is one thing that basically emerged in the time since your book was originally published in the mid nineties. Has there been anything else that you've noticed or observed or learned in the intervening time that has changed your model at all or updated your thinking about preference, falsification and its consequences?
So the model itself is the basic model. It's held up quite, quite well where my thinking is advanced. And I think where others thinking is advanced is in recognizing that multiple motives are driving preference, falsification and driving people's decisions to stop falsifying their preferences and that these interact with one another and that we don't have a sufficiently good understanding of how the informational motives and the reputational motives for changing one's preferences interact. This, I think, is the is the frontier.
And if I was writing that book today, I would put more emphasis on the interactions between the informational drives of preference, falsification and the and the reputational drivers as well as the effects.
Right. Interesting. Great. Well, we're kind of over time at this point, so I'll just wrap up now.
But first, I want to invite you to give the rationally speaking pick of the episode, which is a book or blog or article or something that has influenced your thinking over time. What would your pick be?
My pick would be Thomas Schelling's book, Micro Motives and Macro Behave Lasek. This is a classic that was published, I believe, in nineteen seventy nine or nineteen eighty. I was just coming out of graduate school. I received my. In 1982, when I actually read that book, around the time that I turned in my dissertation, which was not on preference falsification, and it was an eye opener and it was an eye opener because it. It indicated that small decisions can have, when aggregated and when joined with other small decisions, can have massive consequences that nobody intended and that nobody would have predicted.
And this was you can see how this relates to the work that I that I did that published in a book in 1995, all the work on preference for falsification, individuals who are deciding whether to support this policy or that whether to laugh at a joke or condemn it. They're making minor decisions, but they can. The decisions that they make do affect the decisions of of others. And through Cascade's, they can have massive consequences. That basic idea we owe to Thomas Schelling and I would highly recommend that book to anyone who is interested in social phenomenon in general.
Well, we'll link to your book Private Truths, Public Life, as well as to Schelling's book, which is kind of a generalization of the phenomenon that you're pointing out to more. Thank you so much for joining us on the show. It's been a pleasure having you.
Thank you very much. Was a wonderful conversation.
This concludes another episode of Rationally Speaking. Join us next time for more explorations on the borderlands between reason and nonsense.