Poking the Emotional Bears in All of Us

Sign that reads Bureau of Misinformation

Recently, I tried out a headline analyzer. You plunk in a headline for a blog post and the analyzer tells you whether it’s going to attract clicks. For example, the analysis says the headline needs, “more emotional words”. So, you write it again to improve the headline’s percentage score.

I hated it. Everything it stands for opposes everything I am. It loves hyperbole and loathes plain facts. Overstating my blog content might attract more clicks, but it’s not my style.

We are all starving for the truth. And millions of us are being manipulated without knowing it. The headline to this particular fact could read: If you often feel outraged by something you watch or read, chances are, you’re being manipulated. This goes for conservatives, liberals, animal lovers, hunters, vegans and meat-eaters. In other words, all of us from all of them. Sometimes, manipulation is being done in the name of something good. But it’s still manipulation.

Life simply isn’t always that dramatic. One person – whoever it is – isn’t responsible for all of the ills in society. Now, experiments are proving that once people learn about the methods they notice manipulation everywhere.


Teams of psychologists from these universities created short videos that show a variety of manipulation techniques. Scapegoating, for example: trying to make one person look like the reason for everything negative. The idea is to “inoculate” people so they can spot these techniques as they come along.

Much like medical vaccines confer resistance to future infection, psychological inoculations build resistance against future manipulation.


I hope you will take two minutes to watch this video that’s part of the project, Inoculation Science

That’s just one of the strategies that some biased media outlets, YouTubers and even bloggers use to deliver misinformation. It’s a type of spin designed to make your mind up for you.

And it can arrive in the simplest of forms. Millions of people are on Facebook without truly knowing how it works. You see more of what you click, which narrows your news feed to what you believe in. After a while, it will seem like that’s all there is. Like you’re part of a movement. Meantime, opposing viewpoints and stories about the “other side” – whatever that side is – get suppressed by the algorithm. It’s a false reality. But most users don’t even think about that.

I feel it’s important to repeat that this is happening regardless of our political leanings or world view. This is not about claiming one viewpoint is good and another bad. In fact, it’s so universal that it’s bias-free. We are all being fed bullshit. Those serving it up are more interested in the number of page or video views they get, than getting to the truth.

So, does inoculating people against misinformation work? So far, yes. Seven studies involving about 30,000 people found that one viewing of a video like the one above creates awareness of manipulation techniques. Inoculation Science has paired with Google’s Jigsaw unit, whose mandate is to tackle threats of misinformation worldwide.

This is not to say that some politicians aren’t selfish a-holes. Or that outrageous things never happen. Some are and some do. But we need to see past the bullshit to find out. We must mind our emotions and watch for the telltale signs of manipulation in order to know for sure.

2 thoughts on “Poking the Emotional Bears in All of Us”

  1. The headline analyzer tool you were using, it wasn’t called the “Trump analyzer” by chance? A screen reader takes all emotion out of any headline since you’re hearing it in mono verses reading it and the type used.

    Although the one phrase or term being widely used today that just drives me nuts is “Net-0” and in all the interviews I’ve seen discussing the environment I’ve only encountered one individual who has a clue about what they’re actually talking about and this headline is a joke.

  2. The copy editor in me dies a little knowing there is a machine that writes headlines. Some of us, who have tried in our careers to write creative headlines, believe composing a headline can even be a type of art.
    I will also say, in defence of the lamestream media: If all a person reads is the headline, then they are not even trying to engage with the issues in a serious way.

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