Push back against deceptive arguments that use false flags, strawmen and whataboutism to manipulate you.
Learn how to spot bogus arguments being used to manipulate you and how to counter them.
- False flag - an act committed with the intent of disguising the actual source of responsibility and pinning blame on another party.
- Strawman - fighting an argument by dodging the topic and but replacing it with some other irrelevant issue
- Whataboutism - responding to a questions with a counter-accusation rather than answering the question asked
See how the Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs tale might be manipulated with these three manipulative techniques.
Snow White FOX-style
Snow White - Original story
Snow White is is a young princess whose beauty is defined by her inherent kindness and purity. Shortly after discovering love in a charming Prince, Snow White learned that her jealous stepmother, the Evil Queen, was determined to kill her. Snow White forcibly ran away from home to escape the Queen's wrath, but found shelter in the cottage of seven dwarfs. The evil queen poisons Snow White who falls into a coma till kissed by Prince Charming and then live happily ever after. - Disney Fandom
Snow White by FOX
It wasn't really the evil witch that poisoned Snow White. Snow White poisoned herself and almost died in order to attract Prince Charming. (False flag)
Well you think that Snow White had it bad, whatabout the witch who was being called 'evil'. How do you think she felt? Does FOX ever call Snow White an albino? (Whataboutism)
Was the witch wrong to poison Snow White? I think it is wrong for a young princess to be living with seven dwarfs? (Strawman)
Tucker Carlson's False Flags
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., on Thursday assailed Fox News host Tucker Carlson and the top-rated cable news network over an upcoming special that Carlson is billing as the "true story" behind the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. A trailer on Fox News includes a woman who suggests that the violent riot was a "false flag" staged by the left — and part of what the special describes as a "patriot purge."
In a tweet, Cheney — who serves as vice chairwoman of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack — said it appears that Fox News is giving Carlson "a platform to spread the same type of lies that provoked violence on January 6." "As @FoxNews knows, the election wasn’t stolen and January 6 was not a 'false flag' operation," she added. - MSN
Countering False Flag arguments
"Use humor and ridicule. George Lakoff, who studies propaganda, calls this a “truth sandwich” — a lie gets sandwiched between true statements. Research shows it effectively corrects a falsehood, because people tend to remember the beginning and end of a statement, rather than what’s in the middle.
Mr. Trump’s resistance to masks is also a target for a derisive truth sandwich: “Wearing a mask is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of coronavirus. But you sure wouldn’t know it from the president, who has run around in public without one and mocks people like me who wear them. Is it vanity or that he just doesn’t believe in science? I don’t know, but the science is undisputed: wearing masks saves lives.” - NYT
If compelling evidence is presented to MAGA supporters that what they're being told by Greene or others is a lie, they don't engage directly with the evidence. According to Longwell, "They say, 'What about Ilhan Omar?' They say, 'What about [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez]?'"
"They've got these things down, which is 'Whatever you just showed me about Marjorie Taylor Greene is irrelevant because Ilhan Omar, because AOC, and I know lots about that, and I can tell you all about it.'" - Salon
"Whatabouts have an air of “truthiness” and can seem convincing at face value. The way whatabouts dominate our public discourse in an endless drumbeat of fake news and propaganda means that even well-meaning people are getting thrown off base. Many of those propagating extremist right wing views might actually be parroting something they heard on Fox News.
Whataboutism muddies an argument. A discussion about the blatant financial corruption of the administration is expanded into a general statement that all politicians steal, so it doesn't matter. Point out they're not actually addressing what you said, adding “that’s an interesting point, we can discuss that later but let’s talk about just this right now.”
Keep things focused on the issue at hand. Once you are through talking about specific examples of Trump’s corruption, you can then compare it to their opinion that all politicians steal, and show that even though many politicians are corrupt, in comparison Trump displays a truly unique level of corruption." - Occupy
FOX News fights its own Strawmen
A strawman is a fallacious argument that distorts an opposing stance in order to make it easier to attack. Essentially, the person using the strawman pretends to attack their opponent’s stance, while in reality they are actually attacking a distorted version of that stance, which their opponent doesn’t necessarily support. - Effectiviology
“President Biden has been boasting about his plan to save the planet and cut carbon emissions by 50 percent. That sounds great, but what would Americans have to give up to make that happen?” Watters said. “Americans would have to cut red meat consumption by a whopping 90 percent. That means only one burger a month.”
All of this is what another president might have referred to as “fake news.” It is not the case that cutting emissions demands cutting meat consumption by 90 percent, and it is not the case that Biden has proposed such a change. But this one article leveraging the demonstrated utility of meat as a trigger radiated out into the broader cultural conversation, where various other people tried to score their own imaginary Internet points by amplifying the claim." - WaPo
Countering Strawman arguments
Strawmen arguments are based on one of these tricks. - Effectiviology
- Oversimplifying, generalizing, or exaggerating the opponent’s argument.
- Focusing on only a few specific aspects of an opponent’s argument.
- Quoting parts of the opponent’s argument out of context.
- Arguing against fringe or extreme opinions which are sometimes used in order to support the opponent’s stance, but which they didn’t say.
Use clear and definitive language to reduce strawman arguments. This makes it more difficult for your opponent to distort your stance, and makes it easier for you to correct them if they attempt to do so.
- Point out the strawman. Call out your opponent on their use of the strawman, by explaining why their argument is fallacious, and how it distorts your original stance.
- Ignore the strawman. You can choose to ignore the distorted version of your argument that your opponent presents (i.e. the strawman), and continue to advocate for your original position.
- Focus on your audience rather than on persuading your opponent using strawmen in a debate.
TakeAway: Learn to spot manipulation and respond to deceptive political arguments.
Image credit: Walt Disney Co.
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