New Civilization News: Informational Distortions    
 Informational Distortions18 comments
picture20 Sep 2002 @ 13:10, by Flemming Funch

One of the things I'm interested in is how to recognize and expose deceptive information, and how to recognize communication that is meant to mislead and control you.

That takes many different forms, and is a whole big subject of study. So here are just a few hints about it, particularly as they apply to interactions between a few people in places where more people are watching, such as panel dicussions or online forums.

Our use of abstractions and symbolism in our language and in our thinking opens up the door for many different ways things can be twisted. Many of them are harmless or accidental. The main thing to watch out for is when somebody would like to give you an untrue picture of something in order to make you think or do something that really isn't in your best interest.

These are some of the tricks people use in discussions in order to get ahead:


Take something that maybe happened at a specific time in a particular context, and present it as if it is always happening, under all circumstances. That's particularly great if you can dig up a little dirt about another person, something they did at some point in their past. If he was involved in some cult in his youth, or he was involved in a bar fight, and he was in jail, that's great material. You will just speak as if it is part of his current makeup. And if anybody questions it, you will refer to the specifics as your proof.

Making it Personal

Take something general that another person is saying and make it appear like it was really directed at you, or at some other person present. That can quickly take the air out of even a well founded and well researched presentation, by suggesting that it was just a fancy way of putting you personally down.

Omission of Specifics

You can also be very successful in misleading people by simply leaving out the specifics of when something happened, or where it happened, or who was involved. In other words, pass something on without including the context. Be very suspicious of people who can't provide the specifics of what they're trying to tell you.

Emotional Diversion

It is a great diversionary tactic to get hurt and offended when somebody doesn't believe what you're saying and to start talking about how vicious it is to attack you that way, and how hurt you are, and how it is character assasination or racism or something. There are particularly great possibilities if you can present yourself as being in a category of victimized people that your counterparts might feel a bit of guilt about. So, if you're black, jewish or handicapped, chances are people won't ever notice that you create a scene whenever your data is being questioned.

Staying Cool

Another effective use of emotion is to quietly bring the opponent to crack, through any of the other techniques. So he's losing balance, getting angry, yelling at everybody, while you stay cool and rational. And everybody can of course see that the other guy is the crazy one, and now we got him to show his real face, hahah.

False Data

Obviously false data is a way of lying to people. But if you're clever you can construct your data in such a way that it is hard to know whether they're true or false, even when questioned. You might describe in great detail something that happened to a particular individual, but if you leave some of the specifics out, like the exact place and time, people can go and try to verify it, but even if they don't succeed, they won't be able to disprove it either.

Added Irrelevant Data

It can be very effective to throw in a datum that has nothing to do with the discussion, but which either distracts everybody instantly, or which discredits another speaker, or which puts something in a positive light that wouldn't have looked very good otherwise. He's ideas might be great, but he doesn't wash his hands when he goes to the bathroom, so there.

Altered Data

Lots can be accomplished by subtly changing the data at hand, to make it appear to mean something different than what it was otherwise saying. That's difficult to sort out for the participants, so it tends to stick. For example, you can misquote somebody just a little bit, or you can quote them correctly, but change the context a little bit.

Discredit the Source

A quick way of getting around a conversational opponent's information is to discredit the source. In the eyes of many onlookers, if the person who said it is a child molester, it doesn't matter much how well founded the presented information is.

Point out Trivial Mistakes

A seemingly very innocent approach is to point out some minor mistake in what somebody else says. Spelling mistakes are great for that, because obviously you're right about it, and it makes the other person look stupid.


Passive-aggressive humor at an opponents expense is a particularly effective way of getting a stab in towards your opponent, even if you can't make up any weakness in what he's saying. Many people in the audience will defend what you do, and not think of challenging the content of what you say, because it is "humor" and you're smiling, so it must be good-natured and well-intended.

All of these assume, of course, that what is going on is a battle, and that the parties might win or lose, or at least damage their opponents so they're less effective in the future. Communication doesn't have to be any battle, of course. It can be a joyful mutual exploration.

That people use various passive-aggressive deceptive kinds of communication doesn't mean they're bad peple. It does mean that the truth is hidden, and that we need to exert an extra effort to bring it out. We might have to challenge the information distortion, and we might have to ask some pointed questions to bring out what is really going on.

You don't have to play the game in order to communicate with people who knowingly or unknowingly use such tactics. You don't have to try to distort their message and make them look worse than they are. Just probe and bring out the truth. That might start with the truth about the information distortions used. But then we're interested in the truth of what people really have to say, what they really think, what they really know, what they really want.

Good information will bear intense scrutiny. It can be repeated, read back, or verified. You can go and look it up, and it matches the story being told. You can ask the people who said it, or who were there too, and they would confirm it. Good information is useful. It enables you to make decisions and act.

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20 Sep 2002 @ 13:26 by jazzolog : Excellent
Thanks Ming.  

20 Sep 2002 @ 21:14 by simpleman : GREAT INFO, PERHAPS
when all the battles are over here at NCN, we can learn to avoid using all the above.  

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