Social desirability bias could also be called lying and cowardice
How you become unmoored from reality by caring what people think of you
Everyone paying attention to the news last year was horrified by blanket media coverage of the discovery of mass unmarked graves for Canadian indigenous children. The revelation of these victims of Catholic schools so enraged people that Canada saw a wave of church burnings and solemn declarations that it was Canada's 'George Floyd moment'.
As it turned out, a charitable verdict on the story is that it was mistaken. Less charitably it is now described by many as a hoax. Either way, it didn't happen.
If you were aware of the original story, but unaware that it turned out to be false, that's social desirability bias at work - among journalists, publishers, academics, public officials and others who mediate reality for the rest of us. And it's social desirability bias guiding you too, so that you aren't looking outside your bubble for information.
I just listened to an interview with the man who debunked the graves story. Terry Glavin has spent a lifetime chronicling the abuses of Canada's First Nation peoples but when he published a piece about the media coverage of the graves that never were the predictable claim was that he was engaging in 'genocide denial'.
That these howls came from high status people in academia, publishing and public life, suggests that these people weren't too thick to understand what had - or hadn't - just happened. They were scared of disapproval. Utterly in hock to social desirability bias.
There are so many stories with this quality; didn't happen but too risky to correct or express an honest view about.
The first time I noticed this phenomenon was on Twitter, when I made an observation about the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
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