Why Free Covid Tests Went Viral

This article is part of the On Tech Newsletter. Here is a collection Past columns,

The hottest gossip this week was about swabbing your nose.

When the US government launched a new website on Tuesday to order free coronavirus tests for people at home, you may have heard of it. Everyone, Mothers text their children. Friends told each other in group chats and then in different group chats. Maybe Your garden club You said

The government website seems to have a simple explanation of why the new Beyonc આ album got attention: we like free content, and many Americans wanted home covid tests but couldn’t easily find one or afford it.

But people who study human behavior told me there could be more in the story. Test kit websites can go viral for the same reason that Black Friday sales can spread so quickly: we like to tell others something that might be helpful – especially if the information sounds like intelligence – and we take a stand. Trust people we know more than experts.

Jonah Berger, marketing professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and author of the book, said: “We often see things that go viral and think it’s random luck or chance, but there are principles that make things more viral. ” Infectious: Why catch things. “

Dr. Berger said that when he saw people sharing information about test kits, he identified many of the same human instincts that businesses use to spread the word about a new product.

The “secret” menu of fast food chain in-and-out burgers is no secret. Instead, Dr. “It’s clever marketing that capitalizes on the cravings we get – whether we’re aware of the strategy or not – by going through what seems like hidden information,” Berger said.

That’s also how gossip spreads, and why we tended to tell friends where we bought toilet paper when it was hard to find.

We are also more likely to share information about a topic that arouses fear or other strong emotions. And of course, when products are exclusive or we believe they are rare, it makes us more eager to get into action. The coronavirus test kit checks all those boxes.

Jessica Clarco, a professor of sociology at Indiana University, also told me that people make their health decisions based on the actions of people they know or believe they are like them. Social pressures – such as frequent hearings from friends and family about a coronavirus testing website – can be more influential than official health recommendations or doctor’s advice.

News about the coronavirus testing website “mainly spread more informally person-to-person, creating social pressure to participate and inspiring confidence throughout the system,” said Dr. Clarco told me.

Harmful rumors and conspiracy theories can spread for similar reasons. We are more inclined to give scary news and choose to stay informed and feel as if we are helping. Misinformation researchers warn against rumors that seem to come from “friends of friends” because we believe claims that seem to come from our social connections.

This week, however, was another example of the same behaviors and trends that help sell hamburgers and spread gossip that could also persuade millions of Americans to contribute to the public good.

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Tip of the week

Brian X Chen, Consumer Technology columnist for The New York Times, talks about how to stimulate strong emotions, with advice on how to enhance your digital security.

This week, President Biden shared his prediction that Russia would soon invade Ukraine, whose computer networks have recently been the target of a far-reaching cyber attack. What all of this means for the United States is unclear, but security experts have warned that Ukraine was a testing ground for Russian cyber-attacks, meaning similar attacks could eventually reach Americans.

All of this is fictional right now, but it’s another good reminder to improve the security of your online accounts. The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to make sure your online accounts are signed up for two-factor authentication; This adds a step to verifying that you are what you say you are. Even if the wrong people get their passwords, they can’t pretend to be yours.

In the previous column, I covered various methods for setting up two-factor authentication. A robust setup involves the use of an authentication application.

Here’s an example of how to set up an authentication app with Facebook:

  • On your phone, go to your App Store and download a free authentication app like Google Authenticator or Authy.

  • Then on Facebook’s website, go to your security and login settings. Click “Use two-factor authentication” and then click “Edit”. Select the option for the authentication application as your security method. From here, follow the onscreen instructions.

  • From now on, whenever you log in to Facebook, you can open the authentication application and see the temporary six-digit code generated for your Facebook account. You must enter this code to log in.

Setting up double-factor authentication on all your online accounts is a hassle. But after you set it up for the first time, it’s a breeze. Prioritize your most sensitive information, such as your online banking accounts.

  • The clock is ticking on Congress: My colleagues Cecilia Kang and David McCabe report that the time is running out for legislators to pass a bill to put guards on America’s technology giants. Democrats support legislation targeting a much larger tech industry than Republicans, and they could lose control of Congress this fall.

  • What happened to the instant pot you returned ?: NPR’s Planet Money podcast follows students from two nursing schools who line up at the discount store each week to buy and then resell what people bought and returned online. Be prepared for the sounds of competitive shopping, and a lesson in the complexity and cost of content that we are sorry to buy.

  • People who don’t buy anything and want to break their dependence on Facebook: The “Buy Nothing” groups that offer free bowling balls or leftover pickle juice to their neighbors are one of the most eager communities on Facebook. The Verge reports on attempts by some groups to create their own online spaces separate from Facebook.

A woman in Canada has been reunited with her cat for 12 years. Twelve years!

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