How Does Media Manipulate You?

It is easy to imagine how someone you disagree with might be manipulated by the media they consume. But how does your media manipulate you?

Frequently, I see people referred to as sheep. The implication is that they blindly follow whatever they hear. The person using the word “sheep”, however, would never fall for such obvious tricks. Or so they believe.


Related: Listen to the Intellectual Roundtable podcast where Michael and Lee discuss the question, ‘How much of our thoughts are our own?’ Stay tuned for a bonus question, ‘How much is enough?’


In reality, all news, opinion, and entertainment programs use many methods to get you to believe what they want you to believe. That might include word choice, music, on-screen text, sharing only one side of an argument, or even outright lies.

While it is easy to notice these flaws in the media outlets that don’t share your worldview, it is much harder to be critical of the media — newspaper articles, cable news, web sites, and so on — that you consume on a regular basis, and that you agree with.


Related: Here is a podcast episode with the question, ‘What beliefs do you have that might be wrong?’ We also discuss a second question, ‘What makes a place feel like home?’


Are you familiar with the rhetorical methods that are used to persuade? Do you recognize some of the behaviors that you condemn in others in your own choice of news? Can you recognize, in what you read or watch, an agenda being driven, even if you agree with that agenda? How does media manipulate you?

Related questions: How much of our thoughts are our own? How does your vocabulary influence how you think? What beliefs do you have that might be wrong? What deserves your attention?

What Does Spirituality Mean To You?

The word “spirituality” means different things to different people.

For some, the word may conjure up visions of a religious ceremony, attended by a cleric, with or without a choir and a sacred text.

Others might think of healing crystals and psychic readings.

Some people think spirituality simply means a walk in the woods, listening to the gentle sounds of nature.

Each person must decide the right way for him or her to commune with something greater than themselves.

Do you have a preferred way? Perhaps meditation? Praying? Ouija board? Tarot deck? Magic eight ball?

What does spirituality mean to you? Are there certain rituals you follow? And how did you come to your views on this very personal belief?

Related questions: Do you believe in the supernatural? Are science and religion compatible? What gives you purpose?

What Are You Skeptical Of?

The hyper-partisan nature of our current political environment makes it difficult to know who to believe. As a result, it is best to be skeptical of anything you read or hear.

But not all skepticism is created equal.

It makes sense to doubt things people say that are self-serving.  If it promotes a narrative that is favorable to themselves or a cause they support, they may have reason to be less than honest.

But that can be difficult to do, if what you hear  supports your own belief. We are all more likely to accept information that reinforces our own worldview, even if skepticism is called for.

Our own experiences and beliefs naturally influence what we accept. This makes sense, because it is not feasible for each one of us to independently verify everything we encounter in a day. We need to accept some things just to be able to function.

With that said, there are many things people are skeptical about.

Did we really go to the moon? Some believe the moon landing was filmed on a sound stage.

Are ghosts real? While some people insist they have been visited by spirits of the deceased, others feel there isn’t enough proof.

Are the reported COVID-19 deaths accurate? And if they are incorrect, is it too high or too low?

The list can go on and on. Is there anything in particular that you have your doubts about? What are you skeptical of?

Related questions: How do you know who to trust? What do you get out of social media? Do you believe in the supernatural? When is doubt helpful?

What Is Your Bubble?

It is only natural that we all live in our own little news bubble. Opinions we hear tend to be like ours, and the result is an echo chamber repeating what we already know.

However, knowing that you live in a bubble, and trying to be aware of other bubbles, is key to empathizing with others. You have to know what people think, and why they think it, if you want to have hope of having a constructive conversation.

How did we get here?

How we grow our bubbles seems pretty logical. Our friends, family, and neighbors share what information and news that they know. They share with us their own opinions, and you can’t help but be influenced by that.

Other people, with differing views, might live far away, or you don’t come into contact with them. For instance, they might be separated from you geographically, or socioeconomically, or politically.

How you get out of a your own news silo, or expand it, is a little less clear. For example, you might seek out other news sources, or think about what voices are missing among your friends and family, and try to add them. This is not easy.

Unfortunately, the current environment makes it even harder. As a society, we are growing ever more polarized. Entire counties and even states are deemed to be one type of political party. In addition, the wealth gap continues to grow. Compromise is seen as a dirty word, rather than a way to find common ground.

Now what?

Despite the difficulty, it can be very rewarding. It is possible to understand what fears people have. Why they spend, vote, and act the way that they do. Once you know this, it will be easier to address these concerns and win them over.

Moreover, you can’t expect others to step outside their bubble if you aren’t willing to do it yourself.

None of this, though, can be done if you don’t understand the bubble that you inhabit. After all, do you know your internal biases and assumptions? Is it a priority of yours to know people who disagree with you? What is your bubble?

Related questions: How can we encourage meaningful conversation? How do you know who to trust? What are you doing to make the world a better place? How can we become better listeners? What is necessary to change your mind?

What Can You Control?

Sometimes we feel the need to be in control of a situation. Often, we are confident in our own abilities, and doubtful in others’.  But how much control do we actually have?

We have the most control over ourselves. I can decide what time I go to bed, what food I eat, where I live, and the people I choose to surround myself with.

Controlling others is more difficult, but it can still be done. Through persuasiveness, persistence, or even intimidation, we can exert some level of control over our family, friends, neighbors, or community.

There are people who need to feel that they are in control, of themselves or situations around them. It can produce feelings of anxiety or discomfort when people feel they, or things around them, are out of control.

For example, this is one of the primary reasons that people love automobiles. You can leave whenever you want, and go wherever you want. You have the ultimate choice of your entire environment: the music on the radio, the temperature, windows up or down, how fast you go. Even people who don’t like to drive enjoy the flexibility driving affords them.

But how much control do we really have? To return to the car analogy, drivers are at the mercy of a number of factors beyond their control, like traffic congestion, poor road conditions, pedestrians, tolls, and more. Other drivers on the road might cause an accident or a traffic jam, on in general drive unsafely.

Moreover, the flexibility gained by driving creates restrictions in other regards. Cars can be very expensive, with gas, insurance, repairs, parking, tolls, and taxes, in addition to the large cost of the vehicle itself. The loss of financial flexibility when owning a car is considerable. Most people are willing to accept that trade-off, but it is there regardless.

In general, we are often at the mercy of other people, or even of unpredictable events or situations.

Do you feel the need to be in control? What can you control?

Related questions: How much of our thoughts are our own? Where does authority come from? How has luck shaped your life? Free-will or predestination?