What Makes A Message Compelling?

There’s an interesting article at ars technica titled, “YouTube users prefer lousy science over the real deal“. The article briefly summarizes a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association which reports the quality and veracity of information available from Internet-based sources. More specifically, the study focused on the information on immunization found on Youtube.

153 videos related to immunization were identified, categorized and analyzed. Researchers looked for a correlation between the type of message in the video (whether it supported immunization programs, was ambiguous, or was critical of immunization) and the rating and number of comments it received in Youtube. “Compared with positive videos, negative videos were more likely to receive a rating, they had a higher mean star rating and more views.” In other words, videos critical of the official immunization program were more popular and more highly rated.

While I’m more than just a bit skeptical of the conclusion, ars technica summarizes:

The big message in the data, however, appears to be that viewers don’t find the information being put out by public health authorities compelling at all. Even among the positive videos (which were poorly viewed and rated), public service announcements grabbed the smallest audience and the worst ratings; even among videos with a small audience, they stood out as being ignored.

So what makes a message compelling? If the message rejects traditional thinking, is it more likely to be compelling? Is this what make conspiracy theory videos so attractive? If this is true, what does this mean for teaching? Should we put more emphasis on bring alternative messages into our classroom in order to critique and analyze them? Are we already doing this? Sounds like a great opportunity for critical thinking and critical media literacy.

5 thoughts on “What Makes A Message Compelling?

  1. Alec,
    As I read this I wondered more about audience than of argument. I would have no interest in watching an immunization video, but if I were opposed to it, then I might not only seek one out, but also be compelled to comment/rate a movie that supported my views.

    That said, I think that when we bring alternative views into the classroom we truly can inspire greater engagement. Recently I had students blog reflections, (on a private Ning network), on these two posts:
    … I was impressed by some of the very insightful reflections.

    I think the real challenge is to create a learning environment where students end up bringing (or better yet making) alternative messages into our classrooms.

  2. Katherine, you know I own that book and I have never actually had the time to open it up. I’m going to try to make that holiday reading.

    Thanks to both of you for your comments.

  3. We’ve had similar discussions in some of my classes. There is an interesting perspective that invariably comes up that speaks volumes about information literacy in the US. “Trusted sources,” it seems, are not really trusted by a significant portion of post-secondary students. This appears to be a result of the perception on the part of many students that government routinely lies to us (or “spins the truth,” as one student phrased it) and cannot be trusted to tell us the truth if the truth interferes with belief or policy. At least some students, it seems, assume there is a self-serving spin to information that the government publishes and that the “real truth” is something different. That may account, in part, for the ratings that you refer to in your post.

    I don’t know if the Canadian experience is any different. We certainly owe it to our students to discuss these issues.

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