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Alain Giguère

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34% of Canadians are less concerned that the news they read or watch is true or false than whether it strikes an emotional cord! (And the lie in Mozart’s Don Giovanni)

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 03-20-17 at 4:33 p.m.

Are we prepared for a Donald Trump to lead our country?

During his election campaign, Donald Trump admitted to having lied a few times when unable to sufficiently hold his audiences' interest. When he felt that people were getting bored, he would launch some trial balloons and then retract them when the false information no longer proved useful. None of which prevented him from being elected President of the United States. One might have thought that a politician who admitted to lying would be toast. But, no. By telling people what they wanted to hear, true or false, he charmed the crowds!

We have also witnessed the explosion of "fake news," which Mr. Trump has unquestionably exploited and continues to exploit-a case in point: the alleged wiretapping by President Obama.

There is something deeply disturbing about this phenomenon. You can lie to people, yet they don't care! Are there a significant number of Canadians who would react the same way, I wondered. With no expectations of coming up with any meaningful results, we nevertheless asked this question in our last survey on the values of Canadians: "When I read, hear or watch the news, it doesn't matter if it's absolutely true or not; what's more important to me is that it affects me emotionally, that it touches something deep inside me."

To our utter stupefaction, 34% of Canadians said they agree with this statement! Two out of five in Québec (37%), the province with the highest proportion, compared to 30% in British Columbia and the Prairie Provinces, with the lowest proportion.

It is true that three times as many people say they "somewhat agree" than "totally agree" with this assertion-26% versus 8%-but even so, they still don't mind being lied to as long as they get an emotional hit!

Also astonishing is that one in three in the country (32% in Canada) only "somewhat disagree" with the notion in question. How is it possible not to totally disagree with this statement (34% in Canada)?

The most vulnerable groups

Those who agree with the said statement are found among people with the lowest incomes and education in the country, among immigrants and blue-collar workers. Most surprising are the youth: 43% of Canadians 18 to 24 years of age agree with the statement; and 39% of those aged 25 to 34.

It's as if, when suffering from certain socioeconomic disadvantages, taking comfort in having one's perceptions validated, experiencing some emotional gratification, being touched on an emotional level, is more important than getting the facts straight. Just as with authoritarian regimes, whether soviet or communist, where what counts is the effectiveness, the utility of the information, not its accuracy; in this case, effectiveness is the ability to touch people's emotional hot buttons.

Click here for detailed results

Is this where the current wave of populism across Western democracies is leading us? Is the tradition of truth losing its relevance in our new, complex and uncertain world?

The values and mentalities behind the acceptance of lies

The sociocultural profile of these "willingly credulous" individuals helps us understand why they express such an attitude. First and foremost, they are profoundly cynical. They simply believe that all the elites are lying to them! That the media, politicians, business people, even scientists, all have an agenda and are lying to the public to get what they want!

They also feel more or less excluded within society. They feel disconnected from what's going on in the world and from what the media is telling them. They believe that there is no (or no longer a) place for people like them in society. They are fatalistic, expecting bad things to happen to them. They feel that they have little control over their lives, while at the same time believing that they will eventually adapt to current conditions, notably through civil disobedience-desperate times, desperate measures!

They also highly regard strong leadership, which they see as the way to redress the exclusion they feel in today's world.

And so we come full circle, to Mr. Trump, or to his eventual Canadian counterpart!

Click here to consult values profile

The opportunities for companies and organisations

Whenever we identify societal and market phenomena, I enjoy finding their implications and opportunities for organisations, companies and brands. In this case, I would never recommend lying to the public or to consumers while manipulating their emotions to promote a cause. However, people do need to feel moved, to be comforted and mobilized via their hot buttons. Today, more than ever, the communications opportunity for organizations and brands is to find ways to touch people emotionally. Informing them is necessary but insufficient.

Of course, one must be doubly vigilant to root out fake news and expose its authors. We must call on the media, the press and social media platforms to do their part. I consider the efforts of Facebook and other platforms rather paltry given the magnitude of the phenomenon.

The lie in Don Giovanni!

In the history of opera, one of the greatest liars-if not the greatest liar-is undoubtedly Don Giovanni. He doesn't lie to achieve political power; he lies to seduce women! I have chosen a clip in which his valet, Leporello, attempts to "console" a conquest abandoned by his boss. He explains to the unhappy woman that she is but one of his boss's many conquests to whom he has promised the sun and the moon (notably marriage) to take advantage of them. Known as the "Catalogue Aria," it is, in my estimation, one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. Here, it is performed in a modern production at La Scala in Milan (December 2011).

W. A. Mozart: Don Giovanni – Peter Mattei, Bryn Terfel, Anna Netrebko, Barbara Frittoli, Giuseppe Filianoti, Anna Prohaska, Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala, Daniel Barenboim, Production: Robert Carsen, Milano, release 06 Nov. 2015, Deutsche Grammophon.