Friday, March 3, 2017

Most News Stories are Crafted to Misinform and Manipulate You

Problems can be identified and solutions found without experiencing anger, fear, and hate. But we are programmed by the media to react with those emotions every time we think of the other political party or hear their views expressed. It is a major cause of political polarization in the US.



Those of us who follow the news on TV, radio, newspapers or the internet are bombarded by so many unreliable sources of information, if we don't make a concerted effort to pay attention to whether the information is reliable or not, we are very likely to be misinformed and manipulated by journalists, politicians, and political organizations who are taking advantage of us to advance their own personal agenda. The vast majority of what is considered "news" is crafted to get your attention, influence your opinion, make you react the way they want, and keep you coming back for more. Accuracy is of secondary importance. The news rarely gives you an accurate objective representation of reality. We are programmed by the media to react with anger every time we think of the other party or hear their views expressed. It is a major cause of political polarization in the US. This post should help you understand why and how the news media misinforms and manipulates you. With that knowledge you will be able to see through the illusions spun by media manipulators.

A good introduction to this subject is the article at 5 Ways To Stay Sane In An Era Of Non-Stop Outrage which discusses media techniques used to manipulate the public. In the article, the author David Wong, discusses President Trump's media strategy. The principles he outlines are generally applicable so it is worth looking at the article even if you don't share the author's political views.

Here is a brief excerpt along with the section titles to give you an idea of what the article is about:

Hey, you know what happens when you read something really enraging on the internet? You get a hit of dopamine. And even though it's a "bad" feeling, you immediately want to feel it again, because anything is better than being bored. Well, people who know how to manipulate this mechanism rule the world. Here's what you need to know now:
Ignore Headlines Telling You To Feel An Emotion
Remember That People Literally Get Paid To Upset You
Know That If You Can Be Trolled, You Can Be Controlled
Understand The "Firehose Of Falsehoods"
You Must Separate The Signal From The Noise

Dopamine is a chemical found in the brain that plays a role in addiction (see below). Journalists want to get people addicted to the news because journalists make more money that way.

Firehose of Falsehoods referrs to a modern propaganda technique (see below).

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Trolling and Provocateurs

The term "Trolled" is used by Wong to mean that there are people who are deliberately outrageously provocative. They are not really trying to convince anyone of their way of thinking. They are trying to provoke people to react in a way creates publicity (or has some other effect) that helps the provocateur make money or accomplish their aims. They are controlling people (manipulating people) by provoking a reaction from them.

For example, Milo Yiannopoulos, a British public speaker and writer, often makes provocative statements. Recently, at the University of California at Berkeley, protesters demonstrating against Milo rioted and the ensuing publicity increased sales of his books. Some people who might not otherwise be sympathetic to Milo became sympathetic to him because of their outrage at the violence. Those rioters didn't understand they were being manipulated by Milo into helping him sell books and gain supporters.

During the last presidential election campaign, Donald Trump made many provocative statements which attracted so much attention they nearly obliterated the other primary candidates from coverage in the news media. This publicity advantage helped him win the Republican nomination even though his statements were offensive to many people. The outraged reaction of many Democratic party supporters delighted some Republicans and moved them to support Trump. Trump's nomination stunned establishment Democrats and Republicans because they were not aware of how trolling and manipulation works.

Be wary of provocateurs on both sides. They are not telling you about anything real. The "ideology" they espouse is not a real threat because it is invented and inflated to promote themselves. Nobody, including themselves and their "supporters" really believe what they are saying. Many Democratic supporters were stunned and frightened when Trump won the general election. Many of Trump's supporters thought this reaction was humorous because they never took Trump's rhetoric literally.

The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.
-Taking Trump Seriously, Not Literally by Salena Zito,

The provocateurs are trying to upset you, to distort your view of reality for their own personal gain. Don't fall for it.

And the news media is a willing and deliberate accomplice, sensationalizing news, spreading rumors, giving the provocateurs lots of publicity because the journalists capitalize on the public's addiction to outrage by turning it into an addiction to news that they can personally profit from.

Many politicians are also ready to jump on the bandwagon, taking the side that will get them the most votes, and benefiting from publicity. Many politicians perform for the voters in whatever way they think will get them the most votes. Unfortunately this too often involves playing on the voter's emotions by demonizing people with different political views. This increases polarization and is tearing our society apart. A true leader would explain why the policies he espouses are for the best without denying that the other side can have legitimate concerns because of their different circumstances and situations.

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Media Tricks

Be aware of these media tricks that are used to manipulate you and keep you hooked on the news.

  • Be suspicious of headlines that stir up emotions.

  • But also notice how an entire story can be crafted to produce emotional reactions.

  • Be suspicious of rumors presented as news, and news stories based on unnamed sources. That unnamed CIA official might not exist or might be a retired administrative assistant who has no qualifications to make their opinion newsworthy.

  • The other side is not necessarily evil or stupid. Partisan journalists and commentators often to stir up hate by demonizing people on the other side.

  • A subtle but common method of demonization involves describing extremists as members of a group. For example, associating anarchists with Democrats or white supremacists with Republicans. This tends to create the impression that they are typical of the group and that all members of the group are extremists. During the civil rights era, journalists stopped mentioning the race of criminals for this reason. But it is still one of the leading causes of polarization because each side comes to believe the other is mostly extremists when in fact most people are usually quite reasonable. And it can be a self-fulfilling cycle because when people on one side stereotype the other side, it will make the other side less tolerant of them and more likely to demonize them in return.

  • Another method of demonization is the use of inappropriate or undeserved epithets such as lefty, snowflake, social justice warrior, Nazi, misogynist, or racist to describe someone or a group. These types of epithets are used to deliberately prejudice you by making you think someone is an extremist when their point of view might be reasonable. You will often find, if you look carefully, that people who have different political views from you are not evil or stupid. They are just in a different situation or circumstances and they are affected by government policy in ways that are different from you.

  • Problems can be identified and solutions found without fomenting anger, fear, and hate. Those who are fostering those emotions are not the good guys no matter which side they claim to be on.

  • Even reading an article or watching a video made by someone who is angry can influence you and make you angry too. Many bloggers are angry and write posts that spread their anger to their readers.

  • In many cases in history, people who were on the wrong side thought they were doing good. If your basic assumptions about people who disagree with you are wrong, you can easily be on the wrong side and not know it.

  • Out of context quotes are often used to make people think someone said something they never really said. In written articles, notice if quotation marks are used to indicate a direct quotation. If not, they may be paraphrasing or mischaracterizing what someone said. If you can find a video of the story that has the person making the quote that shows what they said before and after they made the statement, that can be very helpful, but video clips with just the quote might be taken out of context too.

  • Predictions of doom and disaster that never really occur are another way they play on our emotions.

  • Be suspicious about "ordinary people" or "protesters" who are really political operatives impersonating ordinary people. Sometimes they fool the journalists quoting them, sometimes the journalists are complicit in the fraud.

  • Headlines are often misleading. Writers want you to read their stories so they often use misleading headlines to spark your interest or get a rise out of your emotions. Just scanning the headlines without reading the stories is a good way to becomes misinformed. When you read an article, you should try to click through to the original source of the information if possible so you can better assess if it is reliable or not. If possible, use a search engine to see what other information is available and if there are corroborating sources or other points of view.

  • Many journalists are not objective reporters of facts. They may have strong opinions and instead of trying to write news stories objectively, they deliberately try to sway public opinion through their work by expressing opinions, making partisan arguments, using compelling images and audio, or withholding information that doesn't support the point of view they are trying to spread. When journalists try to influence pubic opinion, it can be particularly effective because many people assume journalists report objectively and if they don't suspect someone is trying to manipulate them, it is much easier for them to be influenced because they will not be as critical in judging what they hear or read. Also, many journalists might not be deliberately manipulative, but everyone has their own opinions and will influence others through the way they communicate through their tone of voice, choice of words and facial expressions. Even if journalists think they are being objective, the are most probably not.

  • Astroturf movements are political movements that are orchestrated by political organizations but made to look like they are grass roots movements - movements rising spontaneously among ordinary people. When you hear about protests, try to find out who is funding them. If they are not funded by many individual donations from the public but by one or a few foundations or political organizations, then those protests are not genuine, they are political operations designed to manipulate the public. The astroturf link above also discusses how people are manipulated and includes a few videos on the subject.

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Addiction to the News

An article at, by David Hirschman explains how dopamine causes addiction.

"If a drug produces increases in dopamine in these limbic areas of the brain, then your brain is going to understand that signal as something that is very reinforcing, and will learn it very rapidly," says Volkow. "And so that the next time you get exposed to that stimuli, your brain already has learned that that's reinforcing, and you immediately—what we call a type of memory that's conditioning—will desire that particular drug." Over time, the consistently high levels of dopamine create plastic changes to the brain, desensitizing neurons so that they are less affected by it, and decreasing the number of receptors. That leads to the process of addiction, wherein a person loses control and is left with an intense drive to compulsively take the drug."

The article is about addictive drugs but the article at linked above explains that the same process occurs when you experience anger from items such as news articles you see on the internet.

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Firehose of Falsehood: Modern Propaganda

The term "Firehose of Falsehoods" mentioned in the article at refers to a Russian propaganda technique that is very similar what happens when we follow the news. It is explained in the article The Russian “Firehose of Falsehood” Propaganda Mode by Christopher Paul and Miriam Matthews at Below are excerpts that give a brief overview of what it is and how it works.

Distinctive Features of the Contemporary Model for Russian Propaganda

1. High-volume and multichannel

2. Rapid, continuous, and repetitive

3. Lacks commitment to objective reality

4. Lacks commitment to consistency


Why Is Rapid, Continuous, and Repetitive Propaganda Successful?

• First impressions are very resilient.

• Repetition leads to familiarity, and familiarity leads to acceptance.


How Does Propaganda Undercut Perceptions of Reality?

• People are poor judges of true versus false information—and they do not necessarily remember that particular information was false.

• Information overload leads people to take shortcuts in determining the trustworthiness of messages.

• Familiar themes or messages can be appealing even if they are false.

• Statements are more likely to be accepted if backed by evidence, even if that evidence is false.

• Peripheral cues—such as an appearance of objectivity—can increase the credibility of propaganda.

The full article contains a section on how to combat this kind of propaganda ... it is not an optimistic assessment.

Every day we are bombarded by so many sources of information that are unreliable, if we don't make a deliberate effort to notice whether information is reliable or not, we are very likely to be misinformed and easily manipulated by journalists, politicians, and political organizations who are using us for their own personal gain.

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