Does good news travel? Airbnb tries to beat the negativity bias

News is bad, mmmmmkay. And the often negative, simplistic and sensationalist stories favoured by the media—and the ‘if it bleeds it leads’ mentality that was skewered brilliantly in Nightcrawler—often clouds the fact that, by many measures, there has never been a better time to be alive. There have been plenty of efforts at focusing on good news rather than bad, like The Philosopher’s Mail or, more virally, Upworthy. And, as part of its ‘Is Mankind? campaign, Airbnb is trying to do the same by producing the ‘Daily Kindness Bulletin’ and showcasing what it feels is some much-needed positivity. 

Airbnb sees kindness as a central pillar of a business that is valued at $24 billion (without actually owning any property), so it decided to get a better understanding of it and commissioned a study in the US, UK and Australia. Two-thirds of participants said that most of the people they know are kind, but when asked about society in general, the proportion dropped to less than half; people were more likely to view society in general as unkind.

“Today, thanks in part to urban living, efficient travel, and magnificently increased connectivity, we’re exposed to ever-greater numbers of strangers, and a world of social information is, quite literally, at our fingertips,” it says on Airbnb’s blog. Could all this connectivity be exposing us to a biased picture of humankind—one that’s more negative than what we’re likely to experience face to face—that’s shaping how we see others in society? … Asked whether levels of kindness or unkindness had changed in their lifetimes, 60% of the people chose ‘society has become more unkind.’ This experience, that is, being exposed to too much negative compared to positive news, may be causing us to view humankind as less kind.”

The study claims that people prefer reading positive over negative stories by a ratio of ten to one (although that’s presumably claimed behaviour, rather than actual, emotional, guilt-laden behaviour. How else is the Daily Mail so popular?). And judging by the low view counts of the videos, bad news is still travelling much faster than good.  

Airbnb believes popular, online and social media are impacting on our perceptions and leading to an overzealous, cynical view of humanity. But it thinks it can also be a solution. 

“More frequent encounters with positive stories about the kind things that people do, that uplift and inspire, and that remind us of people’s inherent goodness, would most certainly inform how commonplace we think such acts are in society. The more we encounter stories about human kindness, the more likely we are to view humans in general as kind—more closely to how we feel about the people we know. There is another benefit to seeing more positive news stories, more often. Simply witnessing the virtuous behavior of others can make us more kind. For example, when a person watches a brief video of another person’s generous act, they themselves want to ‘become a better person’ and they tend to offer more help to others. Other studies report that kindness and cooperative behaviors ‘cascade’ among social networks: when people behave kindly on social networks, others follow suit. The implication? Kindness is contagious: Witnessing the kindness of others, whether through face-to-face experiences or media, online or through social media channels, elevates us and inspires us, to be better people, more moral, and more kind.” 

The Daily Kindness Bulletins were presented by BBC journalist Peter Sissons and ran for a week. It was an extension of the TBWA/Chiat/Day brand campaign launched a few weeks ago, which, like many of its other campaigns, is working to convince people to experience the world in a more meaningful way and aiming to reduce the fear many people have of letting strangers into their homes.  

And it has resulted in a few entertaining parodies like the below from Portal A, which, in an era where attention is currency, is probably seen as a good thing. 

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