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Critically evaluate academic peer reviewed journal articles to determine whether social engineering can do societal good.
According to Fein (2001), Hyman (2009), Kennedy and Parsons (2012), social engineering is a combination of macro-social marketing and large-scale intervention, such as, regulation, legislation, research and education used by governments to reshape social order and accomplish public safety and health. With reference to the past literature, the negative societal modification programs of Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany and Maoist China were the notorious examples of using social engineering as a tool to bolster social fabrication (McMahon, 2001). Yet, if social engineering is not used with totalitarianism, but used with correct moral and value, it can do societal good. For example, governments nowadays adopt social engineering to adjust undesirable social behaviour, such as smoking, binge drinking and pursuit of unhealthy food. These problems are associated with huge medical costs as they contaminate the people’s health. However, with the aid of social engineering, governments can protect the interests of the majority of the society by regulating and limiting those unfavourable behaviours.
This essay will first evaluate how social marketing, as a tool of social engineering, achieves societal good by promoting healthy-eating in society. Social marketing includes researching, analyzing, communicating and offering knowledge to the audiences in order to encourage healthy-eating and discourage the undesirable eating behaviour (Kennedy, Parsons, 2014). Market segmentation in the design of healthy-eating campaigns is a crucial factor leading campaigns to success (Kazbare, van Trijp, Eskildsen, 2010). In health campaigns, female audience is more involved when the personal consequence is told in an emotional manner, while communication with an unemotional manner appeals to male audience (Keller, Lehmann, 2008). Apart from gender, age, race, religion and other factors can also be used to differentiate audiences. Targeting each segment specifically and designing distinct communication strategies for each can help to maximize the influence of the message content. It is proved that marketing segmentation makes the communication more effective than informing th whole market with an undifferentiated manner (Wedel, Kamakura, 2000; Kotler, Keller, 2009). This shows that social marketing can do societal goods by using market segmentation to increase the effectiveness of health campaigns.
Despite the advantages stated above, some segmentation studies may complicate the communication strategies by identifying a too large target segment (Wind, 1978). The enormous profile of segment generates excessive ideas, confusing the governments’ adopted approach. However, marketing segmentation still can do societal good, if given that the program designer differentiates the market correctly. In short, marketing segmentation, as a tool within social marketing, can do societal good even it depends on the ability of the campaign designers.
Second, this essay discusses how governments use social engineering through legislation to achieve societal good by tackling unfavourable social behaviour, including unhealthy eating, adolescent drinking and smoking. They will be discussed respectively as below.
Social engineering helps to tackle children obesity with legislating for disclosure of nutritional information of restaurants’ menus. Children obesity is a social problem as it persists into adulthood and provokes health risks, and consequently causes public medical expenses. Besides, as Mallinckrodt & Mizerski (2007) and Hebden, King & Kelly (2011) notes, young children have insufficient cognitive abilities and experience to identify the advertisements’ intention when comparing to adults. This indicates children may be persuaded easily, learning and imitating the characters appeared in advertisements without distinguishing between right and wrong. Undoubtedly, parents are responsible for teaching their children but Grier and colleagues (2007) suggests that governments should assist parents by legislating for restaurants’ disclosure of the nutritional information of their menus. The nutritional information imparts the healthy choices to parents, influencing both children and parents’ nutrition intake and forming a healthy-eating social norm in the long run (Seiders & Petty, 2007). To conclude, governments can alleviate the problem of child obesity with the use of social engineering through legislating for disclosure of nutritional information, especially for fast-food restaurants.
Apart from children obesity, social engineering is used to engage in reducing adolescent drinking. Adolescent drinking arouses health risks of drinkers and drinkers may threaten public safety and social order when they are drunk. According to Anderson, De Bruijn, Angus, Gordon, Hastings (2009), alcohol advertising and promotion appeal to adolescents to start consuming alcohol and consuming more if they are already drinkers. Governments should set minimum price and regulations to confine the alcohol advertisement so as to minimize their influence. A 28% of decrease in alcohol advertising can reduce adolescents’ month alcohol consumption from 25% to 21%-24% (Gordon, Hastings, & Moodie, 2010). The statistic reflects that reduction of alcohol marketing by governments can lessen adolescents’ alcohol consumption since there is a causal relationship between alcohol advertising and alcohol consumption. Therefore, it is suggested that governments should legislate for decreasing the frequency and amount of alcohol advertisements; thus reducing adolescents’ alcohol consumption, doing societal good.
Last but not least, governments use social engineering to moderate smoking, in turn, doing societal good. Rothschild (1999) states that in United States, education and legislation’s joint efforts halve the level of smoking from approximately 40% to around 20%. Not only the United States Government, Canadian Government also implemented a very successful anti-smoking campaign and a series of regulation to facilitate smokers to quit smoking. For example, Canadian Government directly increased the price of cigarette by imposing heavy tax on it, confined tobacco products’ advertisements to a smaller market, and reduced the number of approved tobacco resellers (Kennedy, Parsons, 2012). These regulations created a favourable social environment for smokers to quit smoking and non-smokers not to begin, contributing to societal good.
Apart from setting up regulations to limit to influence of tobacco products, governments files a lawsuit against the tobacco companies to address the threats of tobacco products. Since tobacco companies usually adopt “scorched earth” litigation strategy and cast doubts on individual causation in individual injury cases, it is hard to request them to pay damages (Alderman, Daynard, 2006). However, unlike individuals, when governments become plaintiffs, accusing tobacco industry of tobacco-related ailments and associated medical expenses, tobacco industry cannot assign the blame to smokers themselves. As a result, government has a bigger chance to win in the lawsuit against tobacco industry. Yet, some tobacco companies may insist on employing scorched earth tactics as they dread to lose one specific case and risk losing many other similar cases. In these cases, litigation fails to sue the tobacco companies for tobacco-related illness, in turn, fails to coerce them to pay reimbursement.
Notwithstanding the limitation of lawsuits, during the proceedings, reveal of internal industry documents serves as evidence proving the tobacco industry’s harm and its responsibility for the medical expenses caused (Alderman, Daynard, 2006). This makes the similar lawsuits easier to be filed in the future. Most importantly, lawsuits, as a device of social engineering, inform the public about the danger of smoking and warn other industries, that are selling products harming public health, that they cannot be immune to similar litigation. Thus, social engineering is able to do societal good even it has its limitation.
As discussed above, social engineering can do societal good by reducing the level of smoking, adolescent drinking and children obesity; yet, meanwhile, the regulations are limiting citizens’ free choices (Rothschild, 1999). Limiting free choices is inevitable, as the government is responsible to reduce undesirable behaviours in the society. However, limited free choices may result in the “boomerang effect”, leading individuals to go to the opposite side, which is engage in undesirable behaviour instead. Generally, a person is less attracted to a behaviour that is forced upon on him, and “boomerang effect” refers to the situation when a person acts in an opposite manner to the behavior imposed on him (Clee, Wicklund, 1980). Any regulations set by governments and the social advertisements in mass media may give rise to “boomerang effect”. However, this is not a valid reason for individuals to act irresponsibly, making other taxpayers to bear the health costs they caused. Governments should continue to safeguard the public health and interests of majority taxpayers from all the undesirable behaviours (Hyman, 2009).
In sum, social engineering can do societal good although it was used by totalitarian states in the past, associating with a negative image. Also, it has limitations and may give rise to “boomerang effect”. Yet, as discussed above, it helps governments with informing the public about health knowledge, encouraging citizens to involve in desirable social behaviour and abandon the undesirable ones. Moreover, it helps to re-build a favorable environment, enhancing the reduction of smoking, adolescent drinking and unhealthy-eating. For instance, governments regulate the price and marketing influence of all harmful industries so as to protect the general public. More directly, government, as a plaintiff, files lawsuits to industries that contaminate public health, making them to pay reimbursement to cover the medical expense their products caused. To conclude, social engineering can do societal good despite some minor limitations.
- Alderman, J. and Daynard, R. (2006). Applying lessons from tobacco litigation to obesity lawsuits. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 30(1), 82-88.
- Anderson P, De Bruijn A, Angus K, Gordon R, Hastings G. (2009). Impact of alcohol advertising and media exposure on adolescent alcohol use: a systematic review of longitudinal studies. Alcohol & Alcoholism 44: 229–243.
- Clee, M. A., & Wicklund, R. A. (1980). Consumer behavior and psychological reactance. Journal of Consumer Research, 6(4), 389-405.
- Fein, M.L. (2001). Social Engineering in Context: Some Observations on Turner. Journal of Clinical and Applied Sociology, 3(2), 121-125.
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- Wedel, M., & W.A. Kamakura. (2000). Market segmentation: Conceptual and methodological foundations. Boston, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
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