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Media manipulation is a series of related techniques in which partisans create an image or argument that favours their particular interests. Such tactics may include the use of logical fallacies and propaganda techniques, and often involve the suppression of information or points of view by crowding them out, by inducing other people or groups of people to stop listening to certain arguments, or by simply diverting attention elsewhere. In Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes, Jacques Ellul writes that public opinion can only express itself through channels which are provided by the mass media of communication-without which there could be no propaganda.  It is used within public relations, propaganda, marketing, etc. While the objective for each context is quite different, the broad techniques are oftentimes similar. As illustrated below, many of the more modern mass media manipulation methods are types of distraction, on the assumption that the public has a limited attention span.
Activism tends to be created by smaller movements or individuals. It consists of efforts to enact, impede, or direct social changes. Activism can take a wide range of forms from writing letters to newspapers or politicians, political campaigning, economic activism such as boycotts or preferentially patronizing businesses, rallies, street marches, strikes, sit-ins, and hunger strikes. Some activists try to persuade people to change their behavior directly, rather than to persuade governments to change or not to change laws. The cooperative movement seeks to build new institutions which conform to cooperative principles, and generally does not lobby or protest politically, and clergymen often exhort their parishioners to follow a particular moral code or system.
Commercial advertising tends to be created by companies to encourage consumption of their products or services. Non-commercial advertisers who spend money to advertise items other than a consumer product or service include political parties, interest groups, religious organizations and governmental agencies. This is a form of communication used to encourage or persuade an audience to continue or take some new action. Most commonly, the desired result is to drive consumer behavior with respect to a commercial offering, although political and ideological advertising is also common. Advertising messages are usually paid for by sponsors and viewed via various traditional media; including mass media such as newspaper, magazines, television commercial, radio advertisement, outdoor advertising or direct mail; or new media such as blogs, websites or text messages.
Hoaxes are a form of practical joke that typically uses the techniques of media manipulation to encourage people to believe in some outlandish lie or object. It differs from most other media manipulation contexts in that there is rarely any attempt to influence behavior, though occasionally a hoax may form part of a fraud or a hoax item may be promoted as a commercial attraction.
Some hoaxes are not a context, but a media manipulation technique describing deceptive materials created for some other context. The "Iraq Dossier" is an example of propaganda used to promote the idea of going to war.
Marketing is a series of systems used by companies to communicate the value of a product or service to customers. Marketing might sometimes be interpreted as the art of selling products, but selling is only a small fraction of marketing. It is broader and less focused than "advertising," it is an overall strategy to promoting a product or service. Sales is a key part of marketing, in media manipulation terms it is a way of matching producers and consumers.
Political campaigning is an organized effort which seeks to influence the decision making process within a specific group. In democracies, political campaigns often refer to electoral campaigns, wherein representatives are chosen or referendums are decided. In modern politics, the most high profile political campaigns are focused on candidates for head of state or head of government, often a President or Prime Minister. Political campaigns are often organised by wealthy individuals and political parties working in concert.
Propagandising is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position by presenting only one side of an argument. Propaganda is commonly created by governments, but some forms of mass-communication created by other powerful organisations can be considered propaganda as well. As opposed to impartially providing information, propaganda, in its most basic sense, presents information primarily to influence an audience. Propaganda is usually repeated and dispersed over a wide variety of media in order to create the chosen result in audience attitudes. While the term propaganda has justifiably acquired a strongly negative connotation by association with its most manipulative and jingoistic examples (e.g. Nazi Propaganda used to justify the Holocaust), propaganda in its original sense was neutral, and could refer to uses that were generally benign or innocuous, such as public health recommendations, signs encouraging citizens to participate in a census or election, or messages encouraging persons to report crimes to the police, among others.
Psychological warfare is sometimes considered synonymous with propaganda. The principal distinction being that propaganda normally occurs within a nation, whereas psychological warfare normally takes place between nations, oftentimes during war or cold war. Various techniques are used to influence a target's values, beliefs, emotions, motives, reasoning, or behavior. Target audiences can be governments, organizations, groups, and individuals.
Public relations (PR) is the management of the flow of information between an individual or an organization and the public. Public relations may include an organization or individual gaining exposure to their audiences using topics of public interest and news items that do not require direct payment. PR is generally created by specialised individuals or firms at the behest of already public individuals or organizations, as a way of managing their public profile.
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Distraction by nationalism
This is a variant on the traditional ad hominem and bandwagon fallacies applied to entire countries. The method is to discredit opposing arguments by appealing to nationalistic pride or memory of past accomplishments, or appealing to fear or dislike of a specific country, or of foreigners in general. It can be very powerful as it discredits foreign journalists (the ones that are least easily manipulated by domestic political or corporate interests).
- Example: Q:"What do you think of Khokarsan policy on X?"
A:"I think they have been wrong on every major issue for the past 20 years.".
- Example: "Your idea sounds similar to what they are proposing in Falala. Are you saying the Falalians have a better country than us?"
- Example: "The only criticisms of this proposed treaty come from Molvanîa. But we all know that Molvanîans are arrogant and uneducated, so their complaints are irrelevant."
- Example: The slogan "support our troops" has been used to imply that opposing the war effort detracts support away from the individual soldiers fighting the war.
Straw man fallacy
The "straw man fallacy" is the lumping of a strong opposition argument together with one or many weak ones to create a simplistic weak argument that can easily be refuted.
- Example: "'Pataphysics is basically just externism under a different name, and we all know the problems with externism."
Distraction by scapegoat
- Example: If many countries oppose an action, but one of them, say Glubbdubdrib, is obviously acting out of self-interest, mention mostly Glubbdubdrib.
Distraction by phenomenon
A risky but effective strategy summarized best, perhaps, by David Mamet's 1997 movie Wag the Dog, by which the public can be distracted, for long periods of time, from an important issue, by one which occupies more news time. When the strategy works, you have a war or other media event taking attention away from misbehaving or crooked leaders. When the strategy does not work, the leader's misbehavior remains in the press, and the war is derided as an attempted distraction.
Distraction by semantics
This involves using euphemistically pleasing terms to obscure the truth. For example saying "reproductive rights", "pro-choice", or "pro-life" instead of referring to the medical term "abortion". The concept of "states' rights" was invoked to defend the continuation of slavery in the United States on the eve of the American Civil War, and again to fight against the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. The work of Frank Luntz is a notable example when focus groups are convened and the favorable or unfavorable characterizations are used in the selection of special code wording. The more favorable characterization of politicized concepts is thus chosen for future political campaign repetition.
Distraction by regression
This method uses the previous state of the opponent propaganda to prevent the negotiation of actual issues.
Distraction by misleading
This method injects false issues into the opponent's propaganda or attempts to create connections with falsities. Repetition of falsehoods from numerous outlets, nearly simultaneously, is one of the most effective means to mislead by distraction.
Distraction by horror
This method tries to create a connection between an opponent's propaganda and horrific events. (For example when a minority is being arrested by the police and one attempts to create a connection with past unjust actions)
Appeal to consensus
By appealing to a real or fictional "consensus" compliance professionals attempt to create the perception that their opinion is the only opinion, so that alternative ideas are dismissed from public consideration.
- Example: "We all decided that issue long ago."
Censorship is a technique whereby public communication is suppressed. It can be done by powerful organizations such as governments or moral campaigns, or by individuals who engage in self-censorship. It occurs for a variety of reasons including national security, to control obscenity, child pornography, and hate speech, to protect children, to promote or restrict political or religious views, to prevent slander and libel, and to protect intellectual property. It can be a way of influencing the public discourse, by determining what can and cannot be said. It may or may not be legal.
Demonisation of the opposition
This is a more general case of distraction by nationalism. Opposing views are ascribed to an out-group or hated group, and thus dismissed out of hand. This approach, carried to extremes, becomes a form of suppression, as in McCarthyism, where anyone disapproving of the government was considered "un-American" and "Communist" and was likely to be denounced.
Fear mongering (or scaremongering) is the use of fear to influence the opinions and actions of others towards some specific end. The feared object or subject is sometimes exaggerated, and the pattern of fear mongering is usually one of repetition, in order to continuously reinforce the intended effects of this tactic to frighten citizens and influence their political views. It often states that if something is or is not done, a disastrous event will occur, and that by voting for or against it this can be prevented. The end result is the voter being scared into changing their vote or opinion to one more favorable to the person that is fear mongering. In a good marginalization, there is reason to believe the claim because the professional says the claim is true. This is because a person who is a legitimate expert is more likely to be right than wrong when making considered claims within his area of expertise.
- Example: "If we don't get rid of Metaphysico-theologo-cosmonigology, the people will become idle and shiftless."
A compliance professional is an expert that utilizes and perfects means of gaining media influence. Though the means of gaining influence are common, their aims vary from political, economic, to personal. Thus the label of compliance professional applies to diverse groups of people, including propagandists, marketers, pollsters, salespeople and political advocates.
Means of influence include, but are not limited to, the methods outlined in Influence Science and Practice:
Notes and references
- Ellul, Jacques (1973). Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, Ch. 2.Trans. Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner. Vintage Books, New York. ISBN 978-0-394-71874-3.
- Cialdini, Robert B., Influence: Science and Practice, 4th Edition, 2000. New Jersey: Allyn & Bacon.
- Ewen, Stuart, Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976.
- Ewen, Stuart, PR! A Social History of Spin, New York: Basic Books, 1996.
- Ewen, Stuart and Ewen, Elizabeth, Channels of Desire: Mass Images and the Shaping of American Consciousness, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982.
- Herman, Edward S. and Chomsky, Noam, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, New York: Pantheon Books, 1988.
- Jowett, Garth S. and O'Donnell, Victoria, Propaganda and Persuasion, Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 1999. ISBN 0-7619-1147-2.
- Lutz, William D., Doublespeak, New York, NY: HarperPerennial, 1990. ISBN 0-06-016134-5.
- Rushkoff, Douglas, "They Say", in Coercion: Why We Listen to What "They" Say, New York: Riverhead Books, 1999.
- Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media
- Boston Globe article: Cheney aide describes techniques of media manipulation
- Michael Parenti analysis of media manipulation
- Ellul, Jacques. Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes. Trans. Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner. New York: Knopf, 1965. New York: Random House/ Vintage 1973