What is Undue Influence?

Undue Influence is the application of social, emotional or physical pressure to convince a person to align with some cause or belief system against their better interests. It involves an individual or group taking a position of power or authority to gradually prevent the targeted person from being able to exercise their independent will.  Also referred to as destructive influence, manipulation, exploitative or unethical persuasion, brainwashing, mind control, coercion and thought reform, undue influence is dismissed by some as rare or unlikely, despite evidence demonstrating that it is a major threat to society and contributes to everything from domestic abuse and parental alienation to human trafficking, and dangerous cult movements to terrorist radicalisation.

The following info-graph shows a spectrum of undue influence, but it is not meant to be a statistical representation of the types of influence or our level of concern about them:

Common methods of undue influence

Not all undue influence techniques will be the same, and will, of course, vary from situation to situation. There are, however, a number of similar techniques that will be automatically used and adapted by the manipulator to unduly influence their victim. These include:

Limiting the information an individual receives - about what, and how much - is a classic undue influence technique. By reducing access to some or all of the facts, individuals will struggle to make an informed decision. This withholding of information won't usually be as simple as completely banning television, internet and newspapers; the methods are more subtle. For example, the manipulators will encourage members to avoid specific websites due to 'negativity' or they will print and sell their own newspapers and magazines, and encourage the use of their own particular jargon or 'loaded language' to modify the way the unduly influenced person describes the influence itself. These and many other techniques will enforce control of information.
Unreasonable or unnecessary demands on an individual's time, such as keeping individuals busy with events and meetings, or, in the case of domestic abuse, encouraging them to 'stay home' rather than visiting friends, can help restrict the amount of time they have to reflect, or think of reasons to question the manipulator's information and behaviour. Those under undue influence often claim they just 'don't have the time' to meet up with old friends, sometimes cancelling meetings, giving bizarre and arbitrary reasons. 

From a domestic abuser demanding control of the family checkbook to a large group demanding ever-more expensive 'donations', financial exploitation is a common denominator to almost any situation involving undue influence.

A group will ask for small 'donations' to support their continued survival, which may gradually become larger over time, or members will be offered options to 'upgrade' their status within the group. From additional 'training courses' to 'uniforms', 'reading materials' to 'magazine' subscriptions, influenced individuals may initially start by donating small amounts of cash, but in many cases will later find they have given over the majority of their earnings, if not their life savings.

Unless you're going to an accredited University for an advanced degree, no one organization or person you are affiliated with should cost more than your rent or your grocery bill.

This isn't something that happens instantly; the manipulator(s), having first built a level of trust with an individual over time, will slowly undermine that individual's self-worth by chipping away at their independence, telling their victim that 'you'd be nothing without me/us', or that 'we are better together'. This creates a feeling of confidence within the safety of the group or relationship, but leaves one with almost zero confidence outside of the 'safety' of the manipulator's environment. This makes it difficult for an individual to leave.
The classic 'it will never happen to me' mentality is an illusion that many people cling to; in reality, it can happen to anyone. There are many points in all of our lives when we are 'receptive' to undue influence. These receptive targets can vary from someone who has suffered a personal tragedy, a citizen who has become apathetic or discontent with society, someone who needs support with specific needs (such as a recent widow or a sufferer of a sudden illness). or even simply someone in a vulnerable mental state, be they  lonely or confused. The first-year university student, being away from home for the first time and still in the process of learning how to evaluate information, is a particularly easy target for undue influence. However, it is important to remember that any individual at any time can be a target.  
The acknowledgement of a single possibility can change everything ― Aberjhani, Splendid Literarium: A Treasury of Stories, Aphorisms, Poems, and Essays

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