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?

Can Vulnerability Be Strength?

No one likes to appear weak. Oftentimes, we perceive vulnerability as weakness. But can it actually be strength?

Appearing vulnerable means, necessarily, displaying a shortcoming of some sort. That, in turn, means showing some sort of weakness. That would seem to be a bad thing.

But might there be a hidden benefit to appearing vulnerable, and therefore weak? What might those benefits be?


Related: Listen to an episode of the Intellectual Roundtable podcast where Michael and Lee discuss the question ‘What belief do you have that might be wrong?’ Stay tuned for a bonus question, ‘What makes a place feel like home?’


Alternately, it might be best never to show your vulnerabilities. Is that even possible? Or desirable?

Can you think of situations or instances where revealing a weakness might be a good thing? Can vulnerability be strength? When might that be? What risks might there be?

Related questions: When is a lie justified? When is it useful to fail? What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? What is uncomfortable but rewarding?

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?

Is Understanding Possible?

As individuals, we all want other people to understand us. We want our co-workers to understand us, we want our friends to understand us, and we want our life partner to understand us. Understanding is important.

And yet, to some extent that’s not even possible. Fundamentally, we are each different beings, with our own thought processes that govern what we say and do.

Even people who know each other extremely well don’t know everything about each other. They still have the capacity to surprise each other with something they say or do. Ultimately, that makes sense, because no person has the same experiences, the same background, and the same genetics as you do.

But it goes even further than that. Really, you can’t even understand yourself. We might be too obsessed with our failures, and not enough with our successes. We don’t accurately see ourselves and our place in the world — we’re too close. It’s often easier to see someone else’s problems than it is to see our own.

On the other hand, some people do manage to accurately evaluate their own lives. Some couples are in relationships where they seem to finish each others’ sentences. There are some savvy business people who seem to know what their customers want before the customers themselves do. Siblings, particularly twins, who grow up together have a bond that they don’t share with anyone else.

But even in those cases, they are ultimately alone. We are born alone, and we die alone. Insight into someone else is not the same thing as true understanding.

Or is it? Is understanding possible?

Related questions: How important is intuition? Why do we care what strangers think of us? How does creative expression help us to know ourselves better? Who is the most important person in your life?