Extracts from: Truth Lies Deception and Coverups – http://bit.ly/1z040CU
Spin Techniques (Note: These apply to circumstances where deception is used)
28 Tricks of the trade
See if you, your VET colleagues and friends can spot the use of these impression management techniques in marketing, government communication or the various media you use for news:
1. Truthiness (or Half Truths)
- People who want to deceive do not want their deception to be detected.
- Although truthiness may be described in different ways, the truthiness we refer to in the context of spin is not the truth but deception. It involves the use of various techniques to hide the deception and create an impression of truthfulness for a person, group or the general public. Truthiness may contain various amounts of truthful facts or no truth at all.
- It involves various types of techniques used for “impression management”, some of which you will find below.
2. Dumb down the news (Denials and Avoidance)
- This technique involves denial and other methods to avoid answering questions from the media and concerned public. If an issue is not reported, and the general public does not know about it, it’s like it never happened. (Fortunately, good journalists tend to recognize denial spin when they hear it. We should too..
- Characterizing the issues as just “rumors” or dismissing the charges as old news and using these as excuses not to comment are other techniques used to put the media and concerned public off the scent.
- The opposite ploy is claiming the issues are too complex to discuss, and the truth unknowable (with the intent to prevent further pursuit of facts and the truth) and using this as an excuse to avoid the topic.
- Spinners should be challenged when they use denials and avoidance.
3. Creating a Diversion
- Changing the subject may be as simple as ignoring the relevant question and changing the subject; or may go so far as to involve creating and publicizing distractions (good or bad) to divert attention from the matters the spinner wants to cover up.
- Proofiness is lying with numbers or using incorrect logic deliberately to mislead.
- Proofiness can involve: outright lying about numbers; quoting statistics out of context so that they mislead; distorting statistics; or using incorrect logic in order to mislead the audience.
- Proofiness with numbers or incorrect logic is not just used by unscrupulous spinners in governments, big business and marketing.
- Proofiness is unfortunately also used deliberately in some instances in science and medicine (often in the interest of boosting or protecting interests of big businesses etc). As with the censoring of contributions in mainstream media, in some instances editorial and advertising processes in scientific and medical media can inadvertently facilitate the spread of false conclusions arising from proofiness.
5. Using Fallacious (false or incorrect) Logic.
- Logical thinking may be correct or incorrect. Incorrect logic (fallacious logic) is common and does not necessarily mean there has been an intent to deceive.
- When talking about incorrect logic in terms of spin – once again, the intent and the consequences matter.
- Fallacious (incorrect) logic may involve using misleading comparisons (which may have some irrelevant similarities) resulting in a false conclusion.
- If the incorrect logic is part of a “spin” then usually the spinner will assert that the logic is correct and true, whereas it is wrong and misleading.
Snow is white.
There are no calories in snow.
Sugar is white.
So there are no calories in sugar.
- Or fallacious logic may involve incorrect backwards reasoning (inductive reasoning) – where you assume the conclusion is true and reason backward to the (preferred by the spinner) evidence that leads to a false conclusion. Incorrect inductive reasoning can also be used by a spin-doctor to create a misleading illusion of cause and effect for the audience.
Example of incorrect inductive (backward) reasoning:
All of the swans we have seen in New Zealand are black
Therefore all swans in New Zealand are black.
6. The “Straw Man” Argument Technique
Things made of straw are fairly easy to tear apart.
The Straw Man Argument technique involves ignoring the opponent’s actual position. Instead, the spinner or propagandist creates a “Straw Man” argument – and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of the opposition’s position and attempts to make the opponent’s stance appear ridiculous.
Then the spinner attacks the distorted “Straw Man” argument the spinner has created, rather than the opponent’s actual position.
The objective of this technique is to distort the opponent’s argument and hope the audience will not see that this has happened; and mislead the audience into thinking that the opponent’s position is off-the-wall.
The spinner also wants to create the impression that he has won the argument – and that this has been shown by the spinner having torn apart the (non-existent) “Straw Man” which was crafted by the spin-doctor or propagandist (rather than their opposition.
7. How Dare You?
- This is a variation on the “Straw Man” gambit. It involves avoiding key issues of an opponent’s position and trying to link some side issue in the opponent’s position so that it appears insulting to a given group. This is often accompanied by wrongfully attacking the motives of the opponent.
8. “Hit and Run”
- In any public forum the spinner may make a brief attack on the opponent and then disappear before the opponent can reply.
9. Mud-Slinging and Name Calling
- This is an evasive spin and propagandist technique whereby the spin-doctor side-steps their expected response in an argument or discussion by making a personal attack on their opponent instead of responding to the argument:
eg: “Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he.
This includes belittling opponents by calling them derogatory names or making sarcastic comments about them while avoiding the issues. It may also include questioning their motives (once again diverting attention from the topic of the discussion).
- This is also what’s going on when a point in an argument or discussion is side-stepped by the spin-doctor by attacking the group the opponent may be associated with, instead of addressing the argument.
10. Appeal to Misleading Authority
We often rely on expert opinions when drawing conclusions about technical matters where we lack the expertise ourselves.
- An Appeal to an Authority may be misleading under the following circumstances.
- The authority cited is either not an expert (or is an expert but in an unrelated area), or
- The person is an expert but has a bias or conflict of interest, or
- The person may be an expert, but the views he holds may not be representative of the majority in the field of expertise.
11. Fear-Mongering Appeal to Fear (and Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt)
- This is a propaganda technique that capitalizes on fear.
- Fear by-passes the rational parts of our brain. It makes us more susceptible to overt or hidden messages in media that are designed to induce fear and anxiety.
- Multiple forms of lies and deceptive techniques are used to spin fear-mongering stories.
- This technique psychologically prepares the audience for something that is going to happen that they won’t like; or forces the audience to do something by causing them to fear something bad will happen to them if they don’t do it.
- It is used in politics (particularly when military action, additional taxes or other policies that the public might object to – are planned); and it is also used in marketing.
- With the Appeal to Fear – the spin-doctor usually also presents a solution (their solution) to cope with the fear they have induced.
“Voting for “Mr. A” for [some claimed reason – commonly untrue] is the same as voting for terrorists. Vote for our guy, Mr. “B” – Security for Sure.”
“Don’t lose friends due to your bad breath. Use Brand X for fresh breath for 24 hours.”
12. Bandwagon Effect
- The Bandwagon technique attempts to persuade the target audience to take a course of action because “everyone else” (or a given percentage) is taking it or doing it. “Join the crowd.”
- Statistics are presented (which may be partly or entirely made up) that imply that the majority of people support a certain government policy or a certain product that is for sale etc .
- The subconscious psychological manipulation that occurs with this technique is to convince the audience that a program (or product) is supported by large numbers of people (whether it is or not) – and that it is in the interest of the audience to join in because if they don’t they may lose out.
- There is also an unspoken psychological message that the majority of people will follow the winner. An invitation to “inevitable victory” (by joining the majority) lures those not already on the bandwagon to join those already on the road to apparent success. This type of spin also serves to reassure those already, or partially on the bandwagon – that staying aboard is the best course of action.
- When confronted with bandwagon spin, we should weigh the pros and cons of joining in – independently from the numbers of people who have already allegedly joined the bandwagon. As with most types of spin, we should seek more information.
“Everybody’s doing it. Buy Brand X exercise DVD and dance those pounds away.”
“85% of people buy extended warranties.”
13. False Choice (The Either/Or Conundrum)
- This reflects a deliberate attempt to eliminate the middle ground on an issue. This technique involves presenting an issue as consisting of 2 extremes or a limit of only two choices. One choice is typically portrayed as having negative connotations.
- Relevant details are often withheld and other options are not offered.
- It is often used by politicians.
- This technique is used to force the audience to make the choice that the spin-doctor wants or to accept the choice the spin-doctor has made.
- Simplification is a technique related to false choice. With simplification, favorable and simplified generalities are applied to complex social, political, economic or military problems – and the spin-doctor stacks the information provided so that you believe the spun story and proposed action is good and the only alternative is bad etc.
- Card-stacking (selective provision of facts favorable to the spin-doctor’s preferred decision) is often also used in this technique.
- The lesser of two evils is another technique used to influence the audience that an undesirable action is OK, because it is not as bad as the (only presented) alternative.
14. Card Stacking (Selective omission)
- This technique is often used on its own. It is a well-known propaganda technique.
- It is a form of spin that is very commonly used by politicians, government bureaucrats, big businesses, lobby groups, organizations of all types and marketing.
- The term comes from cheating at cards (stacking the deck in your favor).
- It is used to slant a message.
- In using this technique, facts are selected and presented in such a way as to most effectively strengthen and authenticate the point of view of the spinner. It involves selective omission and is related to censorship, lies of omission and truthiness.
- First the spin doctor chooses what to present (and what to omit) so that information is presented to the audience in a manner expected to get the desired reaction. Then, these crafted facts (which are half truths or worse) are used as a basis for conclusions – leading the audience into accepting the conclusions as a consequence of their accepting the stacked facts.
- Success or failure depends on how successful the propagandist is in selecting facts or “cards” and how they “present” them or “stack” them, and whether or not the audience is gullible enough to accept the story on face value.
15. Cherry Picking
- “Cherry Picking” is also a propaganda technique, somewhat like “Card Stacking”.
- Rather than selectively omitting data as occurs in “Card Stacking” – “Cherry Picking involves selectively including data.
- It involves selectively pointing to individual cases or data that supports a particular opinion while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that opinion.
- Cherry picking may be unintentional such as when a person uses anecdotal (personal experience) as a basis for conclusions without the intent to deceive.
- But, with “Spin”, cherry picking is intentional. The objective is to manipulate the evidence to the audience so they come to the conclusion that the spinner wants.
- “Card Stacking” and “Cherry Picking” are often used together to create a “truthiness” story by spin doctors.
16. Lesser of Two Evils
- This technique is related to False Choice.
- The Spin-doctor acknowledges that the course of action being taken is undesirable but that any alternative would result in an outcome far worse. The trick here is that the audience is led to believe that the choice is limited to one of two choices.
- This technique is generally used to explain the need for sacrifices or to justify the seemingly harsh actions that displease the target audience or restrict personal liberties. This technique is often implemented during wartime to convince people of the need for sacrifices or to justify difficult decisions.
- This technique is also used in relation to government policies made in peace time to persuade the public not to act against a policy the government wants to implement.
- Other options are withheld and part or all the truth is often hidden by officials.
17. Glittering Generalities
- Glittering generalities are intensely emotionally appealing words so closely associated with highly valued concepts and beliefs that they carry conviction without supporting information or reason. When these words are used, they demand approval without thinking, simply because such an important concept is involved.
- Though the words and phrases are vague and suggest different things to different people, their connotation is always favorable. Glittering Generalities appeal to such emotions as love of country, home; desire for peace, freedom, glory, honor, etc.
- When we come across an idea that is being spun with glittering generalities, we should look beyond the emotional call of the words and consider the merits of the idea itself (and the facts related to the idea) – and not be way-laid by our emotional reaction to the words.
18. Weasel Words
- Weasels suck the contents of birds’ eggs through a small hole, leaving the eggs appearing in tact – though actually empty. In other words what is left is an illusion that the egg is a functional egg.
- Weasel words are qualifying words tacked on to other words that reduce the overall effect of the words and make the statement ambiguous.
- The use of weasel words results in statements that have the appearance of the speaker having said something meaningful, important and to the point – but they have not. The weasel words serve to obscure the fact that claims which may have been made are ambiguous and assertions unsubstantiated – making the overall statements actually vague and misleading, not meaningful.
- Words with attached weasel words have the appearance of being truthful. But weasel words are often used to mislead; to coverup something or to create an impression in the absence of facts (or at least in the absence of facts the speaker wants to acknowledge).
- Weasel words effectively protect the speaker from being definite or from specifically admitting or committing to something.
- Weasel words are popular amongst some politicians and officials of various organizations including government as a method to avoid telling the truth without outright lying. They particularly tend to be used when the spinner is questioned on matters liable to draw criticism, censure, loss of a benefit, or punishment of some sort etc. They are also used to mislead by creating an impression that may cause others to believe or do something the speaker wants.
- Weasel words are also common in advertising and marketing spin. In marketing spin weasel words are used to suggest something that will hook the audience to buy-in without risking outright lying. The goal is to create an illusion of truth and a false impression, so that the audience “fills in the blanks” and make presumptions to the spinners benefit (without the spinner having to lie outright) .
“Mistakes have been made… (Classic)
“Questions have been raised…”
“Designer shoes from as little as $20 pair…”
(The “from as little” are weasel words that make this a best case description, but the buyer sees Designer and $20 and is inclined to be hooked).
In defense of Weasel Words:
- The qualifying words and phrases that are weasel words in a certain context are not bad words in themselves, and they are commonly used.
- It’s a bit like that funny bank ad on TV where the concluding statement is:“Money isn’t bad. It’s what you do with it.”
- Words (including those that can work as weasel words) are not bad in themselves. It is how they are used.
- As with lies in general, it is the context, intent and consequence of the usage that let you know when a weasel is at work.
19. Euphemisms (Words that are easier to swallow)
- A euphemism is a word or expression often used instead of another word that may be found offensive or might suggest something unpleasant.
- Some euphemisms are intended to amuse but mainly they are intended to downplay what the actual more applicable word or term means. Most euphemisms are used to protect the hearer rather than to mislead.
- When part of a spin performance, euphemisms are usually used with other spin methods. With spin, euphemisms tend to be used when the intent is to manage the impressions of the audience so that they will not react to bad news in a way the spinner does not want.
Examples of euphemisms:
“an environmental hiccup” (a large oil spill)”
downsize / rightsize / agreed departures / terminate / deselect / lay off / release / made redundant / let go” (fired or otherwise lost jobs)
“job flexibility” (lack of job security)
“human resources” (employees)
“improving productivity” (making people work harder for the same salary)
“undocumented workers” (illegal aliens)
“campaign contribution” (political donation)
“pro-choice” (wanting abortion to be legal)
“pro-life” (wanting abortion to be illegal)
“improper / questionable” (wrong, wrong-doing)
“air support” (bombing)
“collateral damage” (missing the target, causing civilian deaths or damage)
“friendly fire” (weapon fire coming from one’s own side that causes accidental injury or death to one’s own forces)
- These frequently stand alone as an audience manipulation technique; but also get used in association with weasel words and other spin techniques.
- Assertions are positive statements presented as fact. They imply that what is stated is self-evident and needs no further proof. Assertions may or may not be true.
- (Remember we are talking about spin. Spin involves deception. When assertions are true and not presented in a manner to mislead they are not spin.)
- Any time an advertiser states that their product is the best without providing evidence for this, they are using an assertion. The unspoken object of the spin-doctor is for the audience to simply agree to the statement without searching for additional information or reasoning about it.
- Assertions, although usually simple to spot, are often dangerous forms of propaganda because they often include falsehoods or lies.
21. Plain Folks or Common Man:
- The “plain folks” or “common man” approach attempts to convince the audience that the spinner’s positions reflect the common sense of the people. It is an old propaganda technique.
- It is designed to win the confidence of the audience by copying the common manner and style of the audience in order to convince the public that the spinner’s views reflect those of the common person and that they are also working for the benefit of the common person.
- The spin-doctor will often attempt to use the accent of a specific audience as well as use specific idioms or jokes.
- Also, during speeches they may attempt to increase the illusion through imperfect pronunciation, stuttering, and a more limited vocabulary. Deliberate errors such as these help add to the impression of sincerity and spontaneity.
- In a political arena, this has quite a capacity to back-fire if the audience feel they are being mocked or spoken down to.
- But this is a common advertising technique.
- When confronted by this type of spin, the subject should consider the proposals and ideas separately from the personality of the presenter.
- This is a technique of psychologically transferring the positive or negative qualities normally associated with a particular person, object, organization etc to another in order to make the second more acceptable or to discredit it.
- Example: An American politician may have his TV interview shot in front of the Abraham Lincoln memorial. (The purpose of this is to psychologically transfer positive attributes of Lincoln to the politician in the eyes and minds of the viewers.) Or a soldier may be photographed with a national flag in the background.
- This technique is also used in advertising: for example, using an igloo and a polar bear to link with the cooling properties of an air conditioner.
- Repetitious use of words, phrases or symbols are not as innocuous as you may think. When things are repeated time after time, psychologically the information is being taken on board in our minds. It makes us more likely to do what we are being programmed to do (eg buy Brand X for washing whites, shopping at grocery store Z etc).
- Remember Goebbel’s (the Nazi propaganda minister) attitude towards repetition (which was similar to Hitler’s):
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
- Slogans are based upon the technique of repeating a catchy phrase, assertion or symbol. Slogans also provide an opportunity for spin doctors to set thoughts in our minds, and influence our attitudes and actions.
- The repeating of the same ad on multiple occasions in the course of an evening of watching TV attests to marketers believing in the power of repetition.
- The repetitive assertion of messages by politicians and others (whether based on facts or lies) have power over our thoughts and actions as a consequence of our repeated exposure to them.
24. Labelling or Pin-pointing the Enemy
- This technique is more than name calling.
- It attempts to arouse prejudices in an audience by labeling the object of the propaganda campaign as something the target audience fears, hates, loathes, or finds inferier or undesirable.
- This technique employs sarcasm, ridicule and cartoons.
- It was used against the Jews in Nazi Germany and the blacks in apartheid South Africa.
- “Swift-boating” is a more recent political example of this technique.
25. Ignoring Proof
- This involves ignoring material presented by an opponent as inadequate and demanding more proof. It may be associated with the spinner repeating a message he wants to get across (for which there is little or no proof).
26. Destroying Proof
- This occurs when there has been wrong-doing and there is risk of being found out, embarrassment, censure, or punishment. It involves destroying all or unfavorable parts of evidence or hiding the evidence in difficult to find places; and/or using code words to obscure data.
27. Creating Proof
- Spinners can create “proof” by altering existing documents or data in various ways or completely fabricating it.
- “Proofiness” in manipulation of statistics and incorrect logic is also used.
- The media is also often manipulated by the spin-doctors who present the media with press releases written as they were news items. The intent of this technique is to mislead the audience to think in a certain way or act in a certain way (which they may not have done if it weren’t for the fake proof).
- Because news media relies on advertisers, there is a tendency for media to censor articles that are critical of major sponsors (which of course includes government and big businesses). This makes it difficult for the public to voice dissent (which is what the spinners want).
- It can also make it difficult for staff journalists to publish some articles. However if it becomes publicly known that the media has been subjected to censorship tactics by government or other sources, this can have significant negative consequences for those implicated in the censorship.
- It is also an old propaganda tradition for “Front” companies or groups to be created to create an impression that there are large numbers supporting the spinner (and creating the false illusion that the group is independent of the spinner). In modern media, spin-doctors also create fake support forums and blogs (with input created by a few spinners using multiple IDs). This is truly a black art form of spin as it is unquestionably a lie designed to deceive.
28. Outright Lies and deliberate Omissions
- Spin is all about deception. Sometimes the spinners don’t bother with complex methods to cover-up deception. Outright lies and deliberate omissions can work on a gullible audience too.