Have we entered a period of post truth?
How and what to believe as a cosmetic shopper
In 2016, Oxford Dictionary named “post-truth” as it’s word of the year. Post-truth is defined by Oxford as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” The idea that our society has moved in to a space where each person’s unique emotional and personal experiences are more influential than facts, science or objectivity has fascinating implications for culture as a whole.
We see many examples of the ways in which people use their own subjective experience to inform their reality, from a belief in conspiracy theories to the political divisiveness that undercuts current American society. The Internet allows us to form tribes with people, near and far, who share and support our beliefs in a self-referential and never-ending closed cycle.
The constant shifting and sorting of Internet browsers and news feeds, which reflect back to us our own interests and preferences, can make it increasingly difficult to even know that we are in our own bubble.
This isn’t the first time the world has experienced a break-down in “truth” – look at any of the dictatorial regimes – from North Korea to Venezuela – and you can see how a government can create their own truth.
In the United States, our deep commitment to democratic values was supposed to shield us from propaganda and the control of information by the powerful. Journalists were meant to serve as the check and balance against the elites – using research and data to limit corruption. Look at Watergate and the work of the Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post. They heroically and diligently worked to uncover a dirty political scandal that lead to the resignation of Richard Nixon.
However, in our current era, where so much doubt has been placed upon the role and motivations of the press – in large part by our current President – who it is that holds the keys to the truth can seem more questionable.
While these larger political and societal shifts affect all of us on a meta-level, they also affect all of us on a more personal level as well, down to what we believe as a consumer. Who should you trust? Where should you shop? And how do you make those determinations?
In some ways, we are incredibly empowered as consumers – with so many review sites and alternative ways to find out information about a company at our fingertips. No longer do we have to take a company’s “word” for it – and we can seek out the opinion of friends or neighbors when making decisions.
The concept of an opinion leader, or a person in the community that is trusted and can guide others, is an old one, articulated by Katz and Lazarsfeld in the 1940s. Of course, we’ve all listened to the opinion of a trusted friend in making decision.
However, today, in some ways, the role of the opinion leader has shifted to the role of the online reviewer. When searching for a business, or a cosmetic treatment, reviews of the provider and treatment can fill our search feed – from Yelp to Real Self. In a positive way, these sites allow users to share their experiences, and in some ways are just a vehicle for opinion leaders to propagate their point of view and to inform others. At their best, they give people information not biased by the provider selling the treatment.
However, the information on these review sites is far from unbiased. Bias is inherent to the human experience, and essentialy, when you share a review, you are sharing your own bias.
What can be damaging about trusting untrained consumers is the rampant spread of misinformation. All physicians in the cosmetic field (and in most other fields as well) fight the “Real Self” or “WebMD” effect when consulting with patients. While online sites can be incredibly empowering as a consumer – they can also be a source of damaging non-truths. We consistently tell our patients to please call and consult with us with any concerns (we are here for you!) before turning to Real Self to ask a question. Our providers, including Dr. Janowski, have spent decades learning their skills and have access to knowledge, information, and other reputable sources, and can compassionately meet your every concern.
Review sites as well can be helpful when making a purchasing decision, however, they can also be incredibly biased and ill-informed. When people share their own experiences with us online, we use that information as valuable knowledge to inform what we are doing well and what we can do better. There are many sites that collect reviews – and they themselves are a business. Review sites generate revenue by asking businesses to claim their profiles and to advertize with them. And in some ways, review sites are a fantastic representation of democracy in action. The people have a voice, and theoretically, anyone can write a review and share their point of view.
It has been statistically proven that the people who write reviews are motivated by strong emotions — they either love you or hate you, with very little “meh”, middle-ground folks in the mix.
And, the hope for a business, is that the sum total of the reviews is a fair representation of both the lovers and the haters of your business.
Most review sites, like Google and Demandforce, post reviews for nearly every person with the time, access, and knowledge to know how to leave one. However, there is one big offender who “filters” reviews based on a proprietary algorithm, and that is Yelp. Yelp filters reviews out that they have determined are “not representative”. Their algorithm is secret – and when businesses or users complain, they site their algorithm and it’s inherent “strength” as a sorting tool. In essence, Yelp tells you that they are trying to prevent a business from gaming the system and posting tons of “fake” positive reviews.
However, what Yelp actually does, is filter out a large portion a company’s reviews. And it gives strong preference to negative reviews. Yelp also gives a huge priority to Yelp-ers – or people who post many reviews. This means that a business is judged by: a. haters; b. people who Yelp a lot. This is in no way a democratic cross section of the opinions about this business – and instead is heavily biased. As a business owner, and I speak for many business owners here, this is incredibly frustrating. Often times, our positive reviews from customers are filtered out before they even have a chance to be posted. And the negative ones live on forever. Sixty six percent of our customer reviews on Yelp are filtered away, meaning only 34% of the Yelp reviewers for Sonata are representing our business online.
Knowing this, how do you make a good decision as someone looking to get an aesthetic treatment done. If reviews are inherently biased to those with the means, the time, and the desire to post about their experience – and then many, if not most (on Yelp), are filtered away anyways, can you look to online review sites as a source of information?
We think you can -with a grain of salt. Of course, you should do your research – with the acknowledgement that in our “post-truth” world, not everything you read online is “true”. We also think you should talk to your actual friends and neighbors (not just your virtual, unknown reviewer “friends”). Additionally, we always suggest you come in for a complimentary, educational consultation – where, without any pressure to do something, you can learn about your skin, your face, the aging process, and all your many options. And, if you like, go see as many providers as you wish. Check out what they have to offer. Look at their before and after photos. Meet their staff, and check out their credentials. How long have they been doing what they are doing and how many patients have they seen / do they see?
It used to be that only dermatologists and plastic surgeons did cosmetic medicine, but in fact, now more “non-core” physicians are doing cosmetic procedures than the core – and many have more experience than the surgeons. And there are so many procedures, and so many patients, that there is no need for cosmetic medicine to be the sole domain of the plastic surgeon.
Ultimately, how you make your decision as someone interested in cosmetic surgery in a post-truth world should come from meeting the person who is going to work with you to help you reflect your very best to the world.
At Sonata, we are here to partner with you, to inform you, to meet you where you are at, and to follow up with you at every stage to ensure you are receiving the best care possible. We have a staff dedicated to educate, excellence, and loving kindness. And, if we can’t offer you your best option, we will refer you to someone that can.
We invite you to explore all the resources you have available to learn about procedures and providers – and to remember, that your best resource is an in-person consultation with whomever you are interested in working with.
Perhaps the benefit of living in a post-truth world is the plethora of information out there. This dearth of information just means it is our own responsibility to sort through, cross-check, and research what is the best and most salient choice for each one of us.