Disinformation, Fake News, Propaganda, Brainwashing, Indoctrination, Misinformation, Hoax, Spoof, Spin, Conspiracy, Coercive Persuasion
The Big Lie: manipulating the masses
The term ‘fake news’ has been gaining a lot of coverage in recent years, but what is it and why does it matter? Publishing fiction as fact is not itself the problem; it is the purpose behind getting someone to believe the lies that’s the issue. Writing, publishing, sharing, telling, or suggesting something is true when it isn’t, at best misleads the individual you are telling, and at worst creates a reaction that undermines that individual’s civil liberty. Increasingly, fake news is being used to manipulate individuals and groups into specific actions, changing the course of politics, supremacy, and civil liberty. This is a cause for concern for the future of state, and world governance, not to mention individual freedom and right to free speech. Key definitions include:
The active presentation of fiction as fact, with the specific aim of spreading discord, inciting hatred, or delivering political or financial gains. Fake news commonly spreads through social media, using viral marketing to gain traction. At best, this information can be harmless hoax, at worst, it can manipulate the course of politics, economies, and even individual liberties. It is often highlighted as a derived form of propaganda.
Victims will often help to flame the issue, continuing to spread the lies and fake news that they themselves have come to believe.
When considering fake news and the spread of false information, it is essential to distinguish between ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’. The difference all comes down to intent. ‘Misinformation’, which has the prefix ‘mis’ meaning wrong, simply means any incorrect or inaccurate information that is spread. It occurs because humans are fallible and make mistakes, misremembering facts or figures and repeating them to other people. Their intention isn’t to mislead, they merely represent poor quality information as fact. ‘Disinformation’ on the other hand, specifically requires a malicious purpose, where the spread of incorrect or inaccurate information has the specific aim of misleading those who hear it.
Propaganda / SPIN
Specifically employed to sway opinion, propaganda is a form of ‘spin’, presenting facts (and often fiction or lies), in the best possible way to make them believable. It can be used for positive gains in morale, such as the UKs ‘dig for victory’ campaign during World War Two, but is most commonly used to elicit a strong response in a negative way, such as Hitler’s propaganda about Jews. Regardless of its intent, propaganda is rarely good, and exists specifically to corral the masses into action, often without a full understanding or knowledge of the context and circumstance.
Propaganda usually relies on eliciting feelings of personal pride or purpose, or that we have found our ‘tribe’.
BRAINWASHING / Indoctrination
Brainwashing is an example of when fake news and disinformation are employed to manipulate an individual into a specific action. Manipulative techniques and carefully curated information are used to convert a non-believer to a specific manifesto, doctrine or allegiance. It is a technique often employed by groups to recruit new members, including cults and religious sects.
Victims are usually converted and coerced over time, becoming staunch believers and defenders of their ‘truth’, often at the expense of friendships and relationships.
Disinformation is information which is specifically released with malicious intent, to mislead those who hear or read it. The term can, and is often, interchanged with fake news and / or propaganda.
It is most commonly considered a tool of government to control the populace, but can also be used by the media, by religious or cultural groups, and by individuals, to specifically gain traction over another individual or group. Disinformation is commonly spread covertly and usually has a specific bias.
Victims will often be misled using grand statements, which cannot be supported with action.
A hoax is a malicious deception, often delivered in pursuit of humour. It regularly involves the planting or presentation of evidence to support bold claims, with a view to getting an individual to believe it.
The true definition of a conspiracy is a ‘secret plan to do something unlawful or harmful’. While conspiracies undoubtedly exist, oftentimes, conspiracy theorists manipulate facts and information to support their own agenda. This in turn can manipulate other individuals to believe things which do not actually exist.
The type of support available to you is dependent on what information you have received, and its impact on your life. In its simplest forms, e.g. reading incorrect information on social media, prevention is your best hope of support, equipping yourself to proactively check facts, vet sources and consider the truth behind what you read. You can also take proactive action in these cases, reporting fake news to the platform that is carrying it, or the admin that is overseeing it. AT the other extreme, disinformation may have led you to behave out of character, resulting in joining an extremist religious group or cult for example. In these scenarios, additional support for recovery is available.