• Moral Panic: Spotting Potential Manipulation: The Cherry Pickers


    I recall one of my favorite university professors tell a story about his trip to Alaska. While there, he visited a museum that presented a video about sled dogs and how they were (apparently) superior to snowmobiles.

    Half way through the presentation,” he said, “I realized… I was being persuaded.”

    He took incredible glee in the realization, reveling in observing the various and sundry ways the persuaders bent supposedly innocuous information to their benefit.

    I learned a lot from that class, lessons I carry with me decades after the fact; techniques I use daily when I’m writing ad copy for clients. Today I’ll share a few with you.

    However, before I do so, I should mention that Jonathan launched this series and his site holds the official definition of “Moral Panic.” It’s this:

    A moral panic is an intense feeling expressed in a population about an issue that appears to threaten the social order.

    So, without any further ado, I’d like to present my totally unscientific, yet (somewhat) proven by years on hard earned experience, top ten clues that someone is attempting to persuade, dare I say, manipulate you.

    10. Cherry Picking Proof

    The latest research sometimes feels all over the map. For example, one weight loss study will say carbs will make you fat. The next says carbs are slimming.

    Turns out, the devil’s in the details. Sadly, even study results can be manipulated. Depending on who ran the study, the funding source, protocols, and such… they all can affect outcomes. That’s why it’s important to look at the preponderance of evidence when it comes to not only weight loss, but most other subjects as well.

    As a copywriter, I can generally find proof for any claim I’d like to make. Only my savvy readers, those who have a lot of time on their hands (evidently), offer contrary evidence. I admire those eagle eyed readers, btw.

    Another example: Instances of negative behavior apparently run rampant through Internet community. That’s really sad. However, are things as bad as they seem? I’d argue they’re not. As a former reporter (OK. I know. I’ve done a LOT of writing these past 20 years), I’m very familiar with the old “If it bleeds it leads” mantra. Simply said, good news doesn’t sell papers. It generally doesn’t attract as many clicks, either.

    However, continual negative press often creates an angry, outraged, moral panic-type atmosphere that garners readers. That’s exactly what the cherry pickers want.

    Your takeaway: When presented with examples, anecdotes, stories, so-called “proof,” even scientific studies, always check the source. Fact check the conclusions. Find other points of view. Generally, the truth is fairly boring, sitting somewhere in the middle of two somewhat extreme view points.

    If you keep calm, do even a modicum of fact checking (Snopes is often your friend), you can guard against falling prey to the cherry picking technique.

    Next time: Ha. It’s a fun one. Moral Panic: It’s a CRISIS!~!

    Category: Moral Panic


    Article by: Beth Erickson

    I'm Beth Ann Erickson, a freelance writer, publisher, and skeptic. I live in Central Minnesota with my husband, son, and two rescue pups. Life is flippin' good. :)