6 Tricks Journalist Use to Deceive Us — and We Believe Them

In today's world, we often are presented with fake news. There is a term that describes this phenomenon called, post-truth. This term became Word of the Year in 2016 according to The Oxford Dictionary. The line between the truth and hearsay becomes blurry and unimportant for journalists. In order not to be deceived by propaganda and manipulated by unfair media, it's important to understand the principles of this concept.

Bright Side wants to reveal six common ways journalists can manipulate the public consciousness in hopes to help you better understand how the media actually works.

1. Subjective assessment

Compare the two titles of the same piece of news: "Desperate Student Commits Murder Because of Poverty," and "Man Almost Kills an Old Lady Over Practically Nothing". Do you agree that these examples form different opinions about the criminal? In the first example, you feel sorry for him, and in the second, you want to punish him. A reader who doesn't know the real circumstances and facts can't understand what really happened, so they simply accept the journalist's opinion.

This effect has been explored by psychologists for a long time. In the Soviet Union, there was an experiment where people were shown portraits of different men and asked to say something about them. Before the experiment, a psychologist told a subject whether a man was a murderer or a scientist. Depending on the presentation of a certain person, the subjects found positive or negative features in their faces. This experiment has been conducted many times in other countries and the result was always the same: people see a criminal if you tell him it's a criminal.

2. Public opinion polls

Since statistics and polls can be very strong, credible arguments, journalists use them very often. They love them so much that they sometimes make their own polls. Have you noticed how many magazines, newspapers, and websites collect readers' opinions and make conclusions based on them? So, sociologists (these are the people who do this professionally) don't recommend believing such polls. And here is why:

  • Journalists don't use samples. Sampling is a very important principle which is based on mathematical laws and very difficult calculation formulas. It takes sociologists a very long time to come up with these results, whereas journalists just ask everyone.
  • They ask questions in a wrong way. In order to be able to say that the results of a poll are unbiased, you should ask questions and form answers in the same way. Journalists often make questions very emotional and don't take all the variety of opinions into account. This limits the answers and pushes people to a specific conclusion.
  • They don't ask questions and leave the people unknown. People are inclined to hide their opinions if they are different from the majority. And vice versa, they demonstrate it and exaggerate it if they agree with other people. This effect has been described by a German political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann as, "The Spiral of Silence".

3. Giving information out of context

After interviews, popular people are often unhappy with the result of the conversation. And they often write about it on their social media pages. This happens because journalists often don't say what the interview was about but use separate phrases and give them a different meaning. Imagine that you told a journalist that when you were in high school, you fell in love with a football player. And the journalist writes about it without the school part. Without this part, other people may think that you are in love now. This is how rumors are born.

Journalists often use this method for argumentation: they take a separate phrase that a famous person said to make it sound different. People often fall for this trick because they are more inclined to believe expert opinions and very few people will actually check when the phrase was said and why.

4. Using labels

"Opponents", "dictators", "terrorists", and "corrupt officials" — all of these are ready labels that journalists use to manipulate our consciousness.

American journalist, Walter Lippman wrote in his book, "Public Opinion" that a stereotype is a defense mechanism of our psyche which allows us to avoid the emotional overload. It is human nature to want to find a pattern in what's going on. This way, it's easier to process new information. But stereotypes don't let us think clearly and limit our views of reality.

5. Filtration

Another post-truth trick is filtration of information. A journalist tells some news but doesn't tell everything about it. For a certain reaction, a journalist can simply leave out the details. Sometimes, journalists deliberately ignore "inconvenient" news and, vice versa, make insignificant facts seem more important. Such things are usually done for propaganda.

Marshall McLuhan, the Father of Communications and Media Studies, said, "One dead British man equals 5 dead Frenchmen, 20 dead Egyptians, 500 dead Indians, and 1000 dead Chinese people". This sounds cynical, but it's true. Media rarely reports about the tragedies which happen in less developed countries. But if it's due to an accident like a plane crashing in an affluent European country, the tragedy will draw the attention of the press.

6. Obvious fabrication

Unfortunately, this trick is popular in more than just the tabloids. Due to a lack of information, journalists often make up the details of certain stories or simply feed into rumors.

Such sentences signal danger like, "sources inform" or "scientists recommend". If there is no author or a credible source (proof), then arguments are probably not real. They serve only one purpose: make the story more believable.

Of course, all this doesn't mean that you should ignore the media and trust nobody. We just want to remind you how important it is for an adult person to keep a clear mind, to be able to think critically, and to not give in to emotions and always check the facts. What do you think about today's media?

Preview photo credit pikabu
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