Media manipulation

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Examples of televised manipulation can be found in news programs that can reach mass audiences. Pictured is the infamous Dziennik (Journal) news cast, which attempted to slander capitalism in then-communist Poland using emotive and loaded language. Kozera DTV.jpg
Examples of televised manipulation can be found in news programs that can reach mass audiences. Pictured is the infamous Dziennik (Journal) news cast, which attempted to slander capitalism in then-communist Poland using emotive and loaded language.

Media manipulation is a series of related techniques in which partisans create an image or argument that favors their particular interests. [1] Such tactics may include the use of logical fallacies, manipulation, outright deception (disinformation), rhetorical 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. [2] It is used within public relations, propaganda, marketing, etc. While the objective for each context is quite different, the broad techniques are often 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 is the practice or doctrine that has an emphasis on direct vigorous action especially supporting or opposing one side of a controversial matter. [3] It is quite simply starting a movement to affect or change social views. It is frequently started by influential individuals but is done collectively through social movements with large masses. [4] These social movements can be done through public rallies, strikes, street marches and even rants on social media.


"Daisy", a TV commercial for the re-election of U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson. It aired only once, in September 1964, and is considered both one of the most controversial and one of the most effective political ads in U.S. history.

Advertising is a form of promotion that seeks to persuade a certain audience to purchase a good or service. One of the first types of marketing, it aims to persuade its target market to either buy, sell, or carry out a particular action. [5] This tends to be done by businesses who wish to sell their product by paying media outlets to show their products or services on television breaks, banners on websites and mobile applications.

These advertisements are not only done by businesses but can also be done by certain groups. Non-commercial advertisers are those who spend money on advertising in a hope to raise awareness for a cause or promote specific ideas. [6] These include groups such as interest groups, political parties, government organizations and religious movements. Most of these organizations intend to spread a message or sway public opinion instead of trying to sell products or services. Advertising can not only be found on social media, but it is also evident on billboards, newspapers, magazines and even word of mouth.


A hoax is something intended to deceive or defraud. Misleading public stunts, scientific frauds, false bomb threats and business scams are examples of hoaxes. [7]


Propagandizing 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 organizations 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.

Propaganda uses societal norms and myths that people hear and believe. Because people respond to, understand and remember more simple ideas this is what is used to influence people's beliefs, attitudes and values. [8]

Psychological warfare

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, often 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.

This tactic has been used in multiple wars throughout history. During World War II, the western Allies, expected for the Soviet Union

Would drop leaflets on the US and England. During the conflict with Iraq, American and English forces dropped leaflets, with many of the leaflets telling the people how to surrender. In the Korean War both sides would use loud speakers from the front lines. [9] In 2009 people in Israel in the Gaza war received text messages on their cell phones threatening them with rocket attacks. The Palestinian people were getting phone calls and leaflets warning them that they were going to drop rockets on them. These phone calls and leaflets were not always accurate. [10]

Public relations

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 specialized individuals or firms at the behest of already public individuals or organizations, as a way of managing their public profile.


Internet manipulation


Astroturfing is when there is an intent and attempt to create the illusion of support for a particular cause, person, or stance. While this is mainly connected to and seen on the internet, it has also happened in newspapers during times of political elections. [11]  Corporations and political parties try to imitate  grassroots  movements in order to sway the public to believing something that isn't true. [12]


Clickbait refers to headlines of online news articles that are sensationalized or sometimes completely fake. It uses people's natural curiosity to get people to click. In some cases clickbait is simply used to generate income, more clicks means more money made with advertisers. [13] But these headlines and articles can also be used to influence a group of people on social media. They are constructed to appeal to the interest group's pre-existing biases and thus to be shared within filter bubbles. [14]

Propaganda laundering

Propaganda laundering is a method of using a less trusted or less popular platform to publish a story of dubious origin or veracity for the purposes of reporting on that report, rather than the story itself. This technique serves to insulate the secondary more established media from having to issue a retraction if the report is false. Generally secondary reports will report that the original report is reporting without verifying or making the report themselves.[ citation needed ]

Search engine marketing

In search engine marketing websites use market research, from past searches and other sources, to increase their visibility in search engine results pages. This allows them to guide search results along the lines they desire, and thereby influence searchers. [15] [16]

Business have many tactics to lure customers into their websites and to generate revenue such as banner ads, search engine optimization and pay-per-click marketing tools. They all serve a different purpose and use different tools that appeal to multiple types of users. Banner ads appear on sites that then redirect to other sites that are similar. Search engine optimization is changing a page to seem more reliable or applicable than other similar pages. Pay-per-click involves certain words being highlighted because they were bought by advertisers to then redirect to a page containing information or selling whatever that word pertained to. By using the internet, users are susceptible to these type of advertisements without a clear advertising campaign being viewed.


Distraction by major events

Commonly known as "smoke screen", this technique consists of making the public focus its attention on a topic that is more convenient for the propagandist. This particular type of media manipulation has been referenced many times in popular culture. Some examples are:

  • The movie Wag the Dog (1997), which illustrates the public being deceitfully distracted from an important topic by presenting another that whose only quality is that of being more attractive.
  • In the U.S. TV series House of Cards , when protagonist Frank Underwood finds himself trapped in a media rampage, he addresses the viewer and says: "From the lion's den or a pack of wolves. When you're fresh meat, kill and throw them something fresher".

Politicians distract the public by showing them "shiny object" issues through the use of TV and other media. Sometimes they can be as simple as a politician with a reality show, like Sarah Palin had for a short time back in 2009, which aired on TLC. [17]

Distracting the public

This a mere variation of the traditional arguments known, in logic, as ad hominem and ad populum but applied to countries instead of individuals. This technique consists on refuting arguments by appealing to nationalism or by inspiring fear and hate towards a foreign country or to all the foreigners. It has the potential of being important since it gives the propagandists the power to discredit any information coming from other countries.

Some examples are:

Q: "What do you think about Khokara's politic on X matter?" A: "I think they've been wrong about everything for the last 20 years or so..."

Q: "Your idea is quite similar to the one proposed in Falala." A: "Are you suggesting Falala is a better country than ours?"

Straw man fallacy

An informal fallacy. The "straw man" consists of appearing to refute the opponent's argument while actually attacking another topic. For it to work properly the topic that was actually refuted and the one that should have been refuted need to be similar.

Distraction by scapegoat

This is a combination of the straw man fallacy and the ad hominem argument. It is often used to incriminate someone in order to argument the innocence of someone else.

Audio manipulation

Photo manipulation

Visual media can be transformed through photo manipulation, commonly called "photoshopping." This can make a product, person, or idea seem more appealing. This is done by highlighting certain features on the product and using certain editing tools to enlarge the photo, to attract and persuade the public.

Video manipulation

Video manipulation is a new variant of media manipulation that targets digital video using a combination of traditional video processing and video editing techniques and auxiliary methods from artificial intelligence like face recognition. In typical video manipulation, the facial structure, body movements, and voice of the subject are replicated in order to create a fabricated recording of the subject. The applications of these methods range from educational videos to videos aimed at (mass) manipulation and propaganda, a straightforward extension of the long-standing possibilities of photo manipulation. This form of computer-generated misinformation has contributed to fake news, and there have been instances when this technology was used during political campaigns.[ citation needed ]

Compliance professionals

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 : [18]

Additionally, techniques like framing and less formal means of effective obfuscation, such as the use of logical fallacies, are used to gain compliance.

See also

Related topics

Notable compliance experts

Notable media manipulation theorists

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Propaganda</span> Physchological material used to influence or persuade an opinion

Propaganda is communication that is primarily used to influence or persuade an audience to further an agenda, which may not be objective and may be selectively presenting facts to encourage a particular synthesis or perception, or using loaded language to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information that is being presented. Propaganda can be found in a wide variety of different contexts.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Public relations</span> Broad term for the management of public communication of organizations

Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing and disseminating information from an individual or an organization to the public in order to influence their perception. Public relations and publicity differ in that PR is controlled internally, whereas publicity is not controlled and contributed by external parties. 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. The exposure mostly is media-based. This differentiates it from advertising as a form of marketing communications. Public relations aims to create or obtain coverage for clients for free, also known as earned media, rather than paying for marketing or advertising also known as paid media. But in the early 21st century, advertising is also a part of broader PR activities.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Persuasion</span> Umbrella term of influence and mode of communication

Persuasion or persuasion arts is an umbrella term for influence. Persuasion can influence a person's beliefs, attitudes, intentions, motivations, or behaviours.

An appeal to fear is a fallacy in which a person attempts to create support for an idea by attempting to increase fear towards an alternative. An appeal to fear is related to the broader strategy of fear appeal and is a common tactic in marketing, politics, and media (communication).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sensationalism</span> Type of editorial tactic used in mass media

In journalism and mass media, sensationalism is a type of editorial tactic. Events and topics in news stories are selected and worded to excite the greatest number of readers and viewers. This style of news reporting encourages biased or emotionally loaded impressions of events rather than neutrality, and may cause a manipulation to the truth of a story. Sensationalism may rely on reports about generally insignificant matters and portray them as a major influence on society, or biased presentations of newsworthy topics, in a trivial, or tabloid manner, contrary to general assumptions of professional journalistic standards.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to public relations:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Political campaign</span> Attempt to influence the decision making process within a specific group

A political campaign is an organized effort which seeks to influence the decision making progress within a specific group. In democracies, political campaigns often refer to electoral campaigns, by which representatives are chosen or referendums are decided. In modern politics, the most high-profile political campaigns are focused on general elections and candidates for head of state or head of government, often a president or prime minister.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jacques Ellul</span> French sociologist, technology critic, and Christian anarchist

Jacques Ellul was a French philosopher, sociologist, lay theologian, and professor who was a noted Christian anarchist. Ellul was a longtime Professor of History and the Sociology of Institutions on the Faculty of Law and Economic Sciences at the University of Bordeaux. A prolific writer, he authored more than 60 books and more than 600 articles over his lifetime, many of which discussed propaganda, the impact of technology on society, and the interaction between religion and politics.

The elaboration likelihood model (ELM) of persuasion is a dual process theory describing the change of attitudes. The ELM was developed by Richard E. Petty and John Cacioppo in 1980. The model aims to explain different ways of processing stimuli, why they are used, and their outcomes on attitude change. The ELM proposes two major routes to persuasion: the central route and the peripheral route.

Propaganda, an influential book written by Edward Bernays in 1928, incorporated the literature from social science and psychological manipulation into an examination of the techniques of public communication. Bernays wrote the book in response to the success of some of his earlier works such as Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923) and A Public Relations Counsel (1927). Propaganda explored the psychology behind manipulating masses and the ability to use symbolic action and propaganda to influence politics, effect social change, and lobby for gender and racial equality. Walter Lippman was Bernays' unacknowledged American mentor and his work The Phantom Public greatly influenced the ideas expressed in Propaganda a year later. The work propelled Bernays into media historians' view of him as the "father of public relations."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Digital marketing</span> Marketing of products or services using digital technologies or digital tools

Digital marketing is the component of marketing that uses the Internet and online based digital technologies such as desktop computers, mobile phones and other digital media and platforms to promote products and services. Its development during the 1990s and 2000s changed the way brands and businesses use technology for marketing. As digital platforms became increasingly incorporated into marketing plans and everyday life, and as people increasingly use digital devices instead of visiting physical shops, digital marketing campaigns have become prevalent, employing combinations of search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), content marketing, influencer marketing, content automation, campaign marketing, data-driven marketing, e-commerce marketing, social media marketing, social media optimization, e-mail direct marketing, display advertising, e–books, and optical disks and games have become commonplace. Digital marketing extends to non-Internet channels that provide digital media, such as television, mobile phones, callback, and on-hold mobile ring tones. The extension to non-Internet channels differentiates digital marketing from online marketing.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Propaganda techniques</span> Methods of mind manipulation, often based on logical fallacies

A number of propaganda techniques based on social psychological research are used to generate propaganda. Many of these same techniques can be classified as logical fallacies, since propagandists use arguments that, while sometimes convincing, are not necessarily valid. Propaganda techniques emerge from abusive power and control tactics.

Inoculation theory is a social psychological/communication theory that explains how an attitude or belief can be protected against persuasion or influence in much the same way a body can be protected against disease–for example, through pre-exposure to weakened versions of a stronger, future threat. The theory uses medical inoculation as its explanatory analogy—applied to attitudes rather than to a disease. It has great potential for building public resilience ('immunity') against misinformation and fake news, for example, in tackling science denialism, risky health behaviours, and emotionally manipulative marketing and political messaging.

Crowd manipulation is the intentional or unwitting use of techniques based on the principles of crowd psychology to engage, control, or influence the desires of a crowd in order to direct its behavior toward a specific action. This practice is common to religion, politics and business and can facilitate the approval or disapproval or indifference to a person, policy, or product. The ethicality of crowd manipulation is commonly questioned.

<i>Propaganda: The Formation of Mens Attitudes</i> Book written by Jacques Ellul

Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes (1965/1973) is a book on the subject of propaganda by French philosopher, theologian, legal scholar, and sociologist Jacques Ellul. This book appears to be the first attempt to study propaganda from a sociological approach as well as a psychological one. It presents a sophisticated taxonomy for propaganda, including such paired opposites as political–sociological, vertical–horizontal, rational–irrational, and agitation–integration. The book contains Ellul's theories about the nature of propaganda to adapt the individual to a society, to a living standard, and to an activity aiming to make the individual serve and conform.

Counterpropaganda is a form of communication consisting of methods taken and messages relayed to oppose propaganda which seeks to influence action or perspectives among a targeted audience. It is closely connected to propaganda as the two often employ the same methods to broadcast messages to a targeted audience. Counterpropaganda differs from propaganda as it is defensive and responsive to identified propaganda. Additionally, counterpropaganda consists of several elements that further distinguish it from propaganda and ensure its effectiveness in opposing propaganda messages.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Clickbait</span> Web content intended to entice users to click on a link

Clickbait is a text or a thumbnail link that is designed to attract attention and to entice users to follow that link and read, view, or listen to the linked piece of online content, being typically deceptive, sensationalized, or otherwise misleading. A "teaser" aims to exploit the "curiosity gap", providing just enough information to make readers of news websites curious, but not enough to satisfy their curiosity without clicking through to the linked content. Clickbait headlines often add an element of dishonesty, using enticements that do not accurately reflect the content being delivered. The "-bait" suffix makes an analogy with fishing, where a hook is disguised by an enticement (bait), presenting the impression to the fish that it is a desirable thing to swallow.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Propaganda through media</span>

Propaganda is a form of persuasion that is often used in media to further some sort of agenda, such as a personal, political, or business agenda, by evoking an emotional or obligable response from the audience. It includes the deliberate sharing of realities, views, and philosophies intended to alter behavior and stimulate people to act.

Internet manipulation refers to the co-optation of digital technology, such as social media algorithms and automated scripts, for commercial, social, or political purposes. Such tactics may be employed with the explicit intent to manipulate public opinion, polarise citizens, silence political dissidents, harm corporate or political adversaries and improve personal or brand reputation. Hackers, hired professionals and private citizens have all been reported to engage in internet manipulation using software – typically Internet bots such as social bots, votebots and clickbots.

Rage farming or rage-baiting is internet slang that refers to a manipulative tactic to elicit outrage with the goal of increasing internet traffic, online engagement, revenue and support. The 2010s' neologism, clickbait, refers to sensationalist content on the internet that focused on attracting click-throughs at the expense of accuracy and quality. Unlike clickbait, rage bait and rage farm almost always have a negative connotation. Rage baiting and rage farming manipulate users to respond in kind to offensive, inflammatory "headlines", memes, tropes, or comments. Rage-farming, which has been cited since at least January 2022, is an offshoot of rage-baiting where the outrage of the person being provoked is farmed or manipulated into an online engagement by rage-seeding that helps amplify the message of the original content creator.


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Further reading


Case studies