As I peruse my facebook newsfeed, I realize that much of the information we come across today is in the form of a blog. And why shouldn’t it be? Social media is a quick and easy way to spread the word! Besides that, who really wants to take the time to read through the actual research paper and interpret the statistical results when we have someone else who can do that for us?
And really, there is nothing wrong with getting information from a blog. Many times it is people who are passionate and well-informed on the topic who take the time to research it and write it. It is important to remember, however, that a blog post is typically just a persuasive essay, and the author is using various techniques to persuade you that his or her interpretation of the data is correct.
So let us take a trip back to high school English class to revisit some of the more popular persuasive techniques…
Appeals to Association:
Bandwagon: People want to belong… everybody’s doing it (Nike: Just Do It).
Snob Appeal: People want to be superior to others – when you see beautiful people using this product, it implies that you can be one of the elite beautiful too.
Testimonial: Relies on the approval of a celebrity, an expert, or a satisfied customer (the opposite of a celebrity… this is an everyday person – just like you!). If they like it, you will too!
Transfer: Connects a product, candidate, or cause with a positive image or idea… such as success, fun, beauty, sex, wealth… (Go Daddy commercials)
Bribery: Promising a “free gift” – contests, special offers, sweepstakes, etc.
Appeals to Values:
Ethical Appeal: appeals to you for moral support (Let’s do what’s best for children…)
Either/or Fallacy: Makes you think that there are only two choices: you are either for it or against it and there is no middle ground
Appeal to fear: Makes you feel that there is a danger to safety, security, or health (Terrorism)
Appeal to pity: Makes you feel compassion
Warm and Fuzzy: Using sentimental images, soothing music, pleasant voices to evoke a positive emotion, or the opposite to evoke a negative emotion.
Loaded Language: using words with strongly positive or negative connotations (meanings) to stir emotion (Such as saying people are pro-abortion instead of pro-choice)
Glittering Generalities: “glad” words that have little to no real meaning and cannot be either validated or disproved… the “best” or “honest” or “fair” are glad words.
Superlatives/Comparatives/Hyperboles: Words like greatest, most, better, increased… or hyperbole which is an exaggeration such as amazing or incredible.
Card Stacking: Slanting a message in one’s favor such as omitting unfavorable statistics to portray only a partial truth.
Euphemism: Using more palatable words instead of more graphic ones… i.e. “Down-sizing” instead of “laying-off”
Name-Calling: Attaching a negative label to a person or thing – taking down the opponent rather than defending one’s own position
Ad hominem: Similar to above – attacking the messenger. If the messenger is wrong, then so must the message.
False Analogy: Comparing two things as similar when they are really not similar.
Extrapolation: Drawing huge conclusions based on only a few pieces of information.
Straw Man: Explaining the opponent’s idea in such an illogical way that it is easy to then discredit it.
Each of these persuasive techniques can be found in politics, commercials and other advertisements, in the media, and in blogs, documentaries, and editorials. These strategies are employed almost any time someone is trying to convince you of a product, service, group, or belief system. Of course, simply because something you have read or seen is employing one of these techniques does not mean you should automatically be suspicious. Obviously the person doing to convincing has a reason to believe he or she is right! Being aware of these techniques, however, can prepare you to think critically about the message being presented.
When presenting with information, ask yourself questions such as… Is this a euphemism for something else? Is this person appealing to my emotions? What makes this celebrity such an expert of the subject? Are we discussing the message or the messenger? Is this the whole truth?
Being aware of these persuasive techniques is one of the first steps to sifting through the massive amounts of information and opinions on the World Wide Web and making informed choices for yourself and your family.