Media manipulation, like a virus, can spread rapidly. It has a dangerous way of intermixing perception with reality. We live in an age of incalculable media, especially online. So, it follows that there is growth in media manipulation as well.

We are here to understand media manipulation in order to combat it. In such times, this is something we can all do considering many of us will be at home anyway. That said, this can help us even outside crisis situations.

What is Media Manipulation?

Media manipulation is when you twist facts for your own agenda. The ‘you’ being any institution or individual. The agenda can be psychological warfare, political, social, industrial, etc. It attempts to shift public opinion to match their own. In order to do that, culprits will deceive everyone with incomplete or wrong information. They will edit texts, photoshop images and videos, tamper with audio, etc. to make us believe the image they present.

As you can guess, there is a big difference between these images. Though identical, they portray something distinct by shifting the perspective. Using just the first image is click-baiting.

A Few Methods

Propaganda, the act of showing selective and incomplete facts to people, is a technique to suppress information. It is meant to appeal to your emotions rather than rationale. Though historically speaking, the term ‘propaganda’ is a neutral term. It is the shady use of propaganda that can make it negative.

Media manipulation also involves distracting people. They will divert our attention from the central topic to an insignificant topic by making it seem more attractive.

‘Argumentum ad populum’ (English: ‘Appeal to the people’) is a fallacy that says if something is popular it has to be true. This is clearly prevalent in social media. You must have come across these kinds of arguments several times, especially when they are related to entertainment. This movie is better than that movie, this artist is better than this artist, etc. There also exists the reverse of this argument. This author is over-hyped and not really talented. Both argument types are equally fallacious.

‘Argumentum ad hominem’ (English: ‘to the person’) is where a genuine argument is refuted by personal attacks on the speaker instead of actually countering his/her points. For example, invalidating a woman’s argument by stereotyping her gender.

Also, the flimsy news of this celebrity dating this celebrity somehow overshadows the news that we absolutely must know.

How to Fight It

Log out emotions when you log into social media. Many posts and articles are designed just to make us lose it. We can’t let that happen. When you come across such stories, instead look at them logically. A lot of theories blatantly blame the Chinese for the Coronavirus, saying that they created it as a weapon. Know that this is a baseless theory and has been debunked. We should learn to detect the agenda behind such posts.

Do some research. Study the source of what you read. Recently, there has been a sudden rise in popularity of two books. Eyes of Darkness by Dean Koontz and Sylvia Browne’s End of Days. Dean was simply writing a story and Sylvia was a self-proclaimed psychic and medium. Both having zero relations and credibility towards Coronavirus. These two books contain certain quotes that have escalated to “predictions” resulting in controversy theories.

People love controversies. Obviously, these “predictions” have zero credibility but dimwits and people with no notion of doing research are sharing images of these books anyway. This is classic bandwagon-jumping that ultimately turns into ‘argumentum ad populum’ of pro-popular kind. It creates a false sense of panic. So, before sharing something, get to the bottom of it first.

Another example of the popular argument type. Fox News was recently accused of downplaying the virus situation. Donald Trump, though now of different opinion, too was treating Coronavirus lightly. On the other hand, psychics and theorists call this the end days or end of the world. Rather than following words, follow numbers instead.

Follow credible sources. WHO is the source of updates on Coronavirus at the moment. The cure for the virus hasn’t been found as of now, yet many falsely claim to have done so. Furthermore, many people fraudulently market products that seemingly combat the virus.

Consequences of Media Manipulation

Media Manipulation gives rise to needless acts of racism, discrimination, violence, etc. News of racism and xenophobia against Chinese and other Asian people are popping up throughout the world. From calling the suffering of Chinese people an act of ‘divine punishment’ to physical assaults. Hadi Al Modarresi was one of the leaders to claim true of the virus being ‘divine punishment’. Now he is infected.

Even outside the virus situation, media manipulation can tamper with our minds. Fake news, bots, polarizing messages to divide people, hashtag flooding, etc. will be ever-present. They cause misguided thoughts and actions. They keep showing us one side of the story, we keep believing one side of the story.

Moving Forward

Tech giants such as Google, Facebook, Reddit, etc. are taking various steps towards dissipating misinformation on Coronavirus. Facebook is going to accelerate credible posts on their site while killing the fake news. Twitter is working on user policies in accordance to COVID-19.

Remember, media manipulation is not a light matter and it is going to persist even after the virus. Thus, it is our responsibility to vigilantly detect false information and bring out what is true every time.

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