I know many of you here will not be surprised by this, but it still serves as a warning. Even if it’s your favorite news source, blog, channel, etc. it is possible for it to publish items that are deceptive.
The photo above comes from this article linked below. It is an excellent example of the way many in media try to manipulate our perceptions in order to influence our thinking. In my view, it’s a despicable practice against which one needs a good defense. And the best defense I can envision is to assume what you are seeing, reading, hearing, etc. is somehow not true.
In the case of the above photo, the one on the left was shot with a telephoto lens from the front of the line and the one on the right was shot from across the street with a wide-angle lens. The difference is startling, especially if the accompanying story is about social distancing or lack thereof.
Here is another example. This one is even more compelling as the direction from which the shots are taken is identical.
Image credits: EPA / Philip Davali / Olafur Steinar RyE
There are several more examples in the article and they all make the same point. A simple choice of lens can alter our perception of what is happening in the photo. All that is needed to complete any deception is a story, whether true or not.
It doesn’t even take a special lens to try and fool you. Take a look at my post called “Would You Do This? Are These People Nuts?!” for a more playful yet equally serious example.
And that’s the problem…a big problem!
In these days of self-isolation, stay-in-place, etc. we are more dependant on media than ever before for our information about what is going on in the world outside. Like many, I start getting oriented to a new day by going to my preferred news sources online and scanning the headlines.
The headlines are almost always accompanied by a photo and, because of the amount of information to which we are subjected, this combination of headline/photo may be all we will know about a particular news story. Of course, reading the actual story is the next step in absorbing the information and developing an understanding. I don’t know about you, but I don’t read every word of every story behind every headline. There’s simply too much and I suspect you and I are in the same position in that regard.
So what to do in the face of such a glut of information? Assume deception as the starting point!
If one assumes that the headline and image are an untruthful attempt to manipulate you, it places you in a much better position to assess them. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, you are far less likely to react emotionally or at least, without the emotion the writer is trying to evoke. Second, it places you in a “show me” position rather than a “that is terrible, wonderful, scary, exciting…etc.” position. In other words, it allows you to respond with detachment.
This detachment will give you some space in which to decide if you want to invest any of your valuable time reading the subsequent article. The actual reading can also be done with some measure of detachment since manipulation doesn’t end with the headline or picture.
At the very least, you will have avoided the trap of being led to think a certain way. Assuming there is deliberate manipulation going on frees you from its clutches.
It would be dishonest of me to claim that I never fall for deceptions. I have my own biases, preferences, likes, and dislikes. But I can say that I have spotted nonsense, sometimes immediately, as a result of my default position of skepticism. But there are other times, especially those in which an item is aligned with my current views, that I fall for information being presented. So I still have some work to do.
Of course, not all media is merely an attempt to manipulate, and some of it is actually true. But I maintain that a stance of skeptical response is the best protection from deceit.
And when truth shines through to enlighten, inform, and hopefully uplift, it is all the better…much better!