A Nigerian feature film "Water of Gold" -- along with a text message campaign -- made viewers significantly more likely to report corruption, according to a study which shows how such media can shift social norms.
"Water of Gold" is Nigerian film commissioned for the purposes of an innovative experiment to investigate whether films can help combat corruption.
However, Natufe's brother, Priye, leaves the Niger Delta, gets rich in business, returns home, and becomes a corrupt politician -- to the dismay of Natufe, who becomes outspoken about endemic local corruption.
The other version did not contain those scenes. As the researchers discovered, "Water of Gold" boosted corruption reporting among viewers -- but only when it contains the extra 17 minutes showing the movie characters reporting corruption themselves.
"When we added the extra scenes in the film, we found we did get more people reporting," said Rebecca Littman, a postdoctoral fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US.
The movie, and an accompanying mass text message, spurred 240 people in 106 small communities to send in concrete, specific reports of corruption over a seven-month period, a marked improvement compared to two national campaigns that generated 140 reports per year, in a country of 174 million people.
By combining texting with the film, it becomes "less costly, and psychologically easier, to try this new thing," Littman said about corruption reporting.
To conduct the study, the researchers both commissioned "Water of Gold" and then rolled it out in careful fashion.
Among the 106 places where the film was available, in 2013 and 2014, it was randomly determined whether viewers would see the "treatment" version of the film, with the corruption-reporting scenes, or the "placebo" version, which lacks them.
Both versions of the movie were also accompanied by a new system for reporting corruption via text message, which was displayed on the film's packaging and at the beginning, middle, and end of the film.
Soon after handing out the films, the researchers then sent out a mass text message blast in each community, to all subscribers of the major mobile phone provider, so people simply had to reply in order to report corruption.
Nigeria would seem to provide a setting where anticorruption campaigns have room to grow, researchers said.
In a public-opinion survey conducted as part of the research project, just under 80 per cent of Nigerians said they thought the police, civil servants, and state governments were corrupt.
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