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Monday, 30 January 2023

Journalism: the 20 tricks of disinformation

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Journalism too often ends up in disinformation and knowing its tricks is essential for those who want to provide quality information and not a trivial replay of news and opinions just read.

Knowing the tricks of disinformation is an important skill for any journalist who does not want to be an amplifier of unfounded, distorted or biased information. None of us are safe from the misinformation of articles designed to drive consensus wherever the author (or publisher) wants, sometimes forcing logic and sometimes facts.

Here is the reason for this tutorial, taken from the FirstMaster Journalism Master. The sources of this article are some exercises aimed at sharpening the skills of critical judgment on the information sources of journalists and bloggers. In this written form, interactivity and divertissement are lost, but not usefulness.

The 20 tricks of disinformation

(1) Compulsory consent: the author of the article proposes only one solution, but in reality there are various other options.
Eg: “the progressive depletion of old oil fields requires looking for others, wherever they are” (therefore also in areas at environmental risk).

(2) Compulsory consent / b: similar to the previous one, it is achieved by reducing the question to two possibilities, one of which is obviously unacceptable or inconvenient, and for this very reason used.
Eg: “either we look for new oil fields or we have to give up most of our daily comforts”.

(3) Compulsory consent / c: the reader is warned that unacceptable consequences are linked to a certain thesis.
Eg: “if the public financing of the parties is eliminated, only the richest will be able to do politics”.

(4) Compulsory consent / d: this is achieved by denigrating those who do not adhere to a specific idea.
E.g .: “only an ignorant person would not understand that …”, or “whoever does not believe in this is an atheist / communist / fascist / homophobic / defeatist …”

(5) Inaccessible truth: something is taken as true that the reader cannot easily refute, or in that situation.
Eg: “the latest Istat data confirm …” (which ones or when?); or: “in the acquittal sentence we read that …”.

(6) Specious dispute: the source, the person or the circumstances are contested instead of refuting the arguments.
Eg: “previously this mafia has lied to the judiciary” (but this does not prove that he is lying today).

(7) Specious contestation / b, similar to the previous one: a truth is contested because those who support it do not practice what they preach.
Eg: “since so many doctors smoke, one cannot believe that smoking is so bad for your health” (ideas can be right or wrong regardless of who pronounces them).

(8) Specious dispute / c: the content is not contested but the form, usually unacceptable. It often happens in televised debates, in which a person stresses to the public that his opponent has lost lucidity or what he says is motivated by aggression (however, he may be a real victim of an injustice).

(9) Consent for authority / a: a fact or a thesis is true by the very fact that it comes from an authority, omitting the contrary voices and not because it is proven / demonstrable.
For example: “with this reform, the Minister of Education guarantees the return of meritocracy to the university”.

(10) Consent for authority / b: a fact or a thesis is true because it is said by a known person, even if he is not a specialist on the subject.
For example: “as Scalfari has always maintained, exiting the euro would be an epochal disaster”.

(11) Consent for trust / c: a truth of a statement is linked to the trust claimed by the author (as if there could be no personal convenience).
Eg .: «as a teacher of public law, you must believe me when I tell you that…»; “As a referee with more than 100 Serie A matches …”

(12) Consent by artifice: obtained by artificially extrapolating the most convenient statement from a text or an interview, even if it has a different overall meaning.

(13) Consent by artifice / b: obtained by cheating with words.
Eg .: in the judicial chronicles, the term “condemned” (true) is replaced with the lighter one of “accused”; or the term “prescribed” (true) with the positive one of “acquitted”, when “acquitted” means not guilty, on the other hand “prescribed” can indicate an established crime but no longer punishable.

(14) Consensus by popularity: it is obtained by claiming that something is right / correct while simultaneously claiming that the majority of people think it is right / correct.
Eg: «all people of common sense believe that…».

(15) Consent by generalization: a random fact or a sample of data that is too small to be truly valid is brought to the demonstration of a thesis.
Eg: “so much unemployment of our graduates is the result of laziness: they wait for work to look for them and if the salary is low they refuse it, as happened to …”.

(16) Consent for generalization / b: general validity is attributed to circumstances that instead suggest the presence of an exception.
Eg: “this dictatorship demonstrates that a society can prosper even without a Western-style parliament” (yes, but rarely, in the case of nationalizations and only for the first few years).

(17) Consent by false analogy: two elements are compared as if they were analogous, when they are not analogous.
Eg: “Italian federalism must strive towards the Swiss federal model, which is the basis of its economic and social well-being”.

(18) Consent for manipulation: occurs when data or facts at the origin of a thesis are manipulated, either by falsifying them or (more frequently) by omitting those inappropriate for the thesis supported. Data manipulation occurs frequently in statistics, while in economics or political economy it is common to omit inappropriate data.

(19) Consent for false cause and effect: if one element follows the other in a connection of simple contiguity, it is to be inferred that it is a consequence of it.
Eg: “since the company was taken over by X, the dysfunctions have more than doubled” (in reality the progressive growth has been reduced and the tgrend reversed, thanks to the new management)

(20) Consent for cause-effect inversion: in this case the cause-effect relationships are inverted, for convenience.
Eg: “the increase in tax evasion causes the increase in taxes”, or “the increase in taxes causes tax evasion”.

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