Surviving This Age of Deception

We live in an age of the supermarket tabloid, falsified pharmaceutical research, and of course, the fakest of fake news.

It is an Age of Deception and we don’t even know it.

Although deception has existed since humans were scratching out hieroglyphs, we didn’t take the turn down Sinister Street until a few years ago.

It began with Edward Bernays.

It Began With Bernays

Drift back into the early 1900’s, to a time when the American skies were clouded by World War and industry.

Now enter Edward Bernays, the ‘father of public relations,’ and the gentleman who defined institutional deception itself .

By World War One, Bernays was working in New York with the U.S. Committee on Public Education. He was given the task of spreading American propaganda, something he called ‘psychological warfare’. He is even quoted as saying “what could be done for a nation at war could be done for organizations and people in a nation at peace.”

By 1928, Bernays had perfected his psychological manipulations, and although the World Wars raged on, Bernays turned his attention to a different kind of propaganda: advertising.

The 1930's brought about Bernays’ most famous (or infamous) work — the 1934 Lucky strike ad campaign . At the time, Lucky Strike green was considered highly unfashionable by American women, and they were reluctant to purchase the package for this reason. Rather than change the box’s color, Bernays orchestrated a series of events to popularize the color green. These included gatherings like the Green Ball, the Green Fall Fashion’s Luncheon, and the Green Exhibition, all of which featured famous female figures. Lucky Strike green shot to the forefront of feminine fashion, and cigarette packages flew off shelves, purchased by by more American women than ever before.

Our Modern Age of Deception

It is now the 21st century. Personal privacy has been flung to the birds, and the consumer mind is whittled down to a science, but the theories of human manipulation still persist. They’re just more subversive and controversial.

Online Marketing: with complex mathematical algorithms, online markets can track an individual’s virtual movements and create a profile (i.e. gender, demographics, personal tendencies, etc.). The information is sold to marketing agencies who tailor advertisements to the individual in question. The individual is none the wiser.

Emotional Marketing Tactics: marketers often tap the uncontrollable mechanisms of human psychology by using emotion, like in stuntman adverts for energy drinks, or commercials about animal cruelty with sad images and serenades from Sarah Mclaughlin. Both create an emotional association with the ‘product’. Positive intentions do not matter. When the subconscious is targeted, the individual is at a disadvantage — some people might even find themselves making purchases without knowing why.

A Life in the Age of Deception

The story of Edward Bernays is only a slice of the subversive pie. Deception seeps into daily life. Consider:

  • 3 out of 4 modern democratic elections are fraudulent
  • 90% of the people you associate with will lie to your face
  • Over half of all news articles contain falsified information

Deception is everywhere. Oftentimes we’re oblivious. When we take what we see or read or hear without digging deeper, we give up our power.

To prove this point, every single statistic above is fabricated. But did you take the effort to validate them?

This is when critical thinking hits a critical juncture.

Awareness is our greatest asset. Questions are the tools of our toolbox. Asking what, why, or from whom can help us take back to power that we, the consumers, have lost.

Living in this Age of Deception involves more critical thought on our part. But if we know what to look for, we’ll make it through to other side.

How to Live Through It

If you think you can overcome every deception, you’re wrong. Fraudsters are global, but we can catch some of them:

  • KNOW — marketing means big money. A good marketer manipulates their words to manipulate the consumer. For example, an ‘all natural’ product might sound nice, but in the US it’s an unregulated label. Many labels are. Dannon once slapped ‘Scientifically Proven’ to sell more Yogurts, which ended up being(what their lawyers described as) a ‘true lie’, and they were forced to pay $21 million in settlements. Do not be fooled by colorful labels, big words, or flashy phrases.
  • DOUBT — if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. For example, tabloids might boast “lose 30 pounds in a week”, but that’s not normal unless you’re ill or dead. News networks and journalists can also cook up facts behind closed doors — remember my stats from earlier? There’s even a profession called Fact Checking dedicated to rooting out the worst offenders.
  • DIG — don’t immediately believe the words of people with an agenda. Find the truth for yourself. Check out these Honesty Charts, which show the truth to recent political statements. Prepare to be horrified. There’s a reason Henry Adams said, “Practical politics consists in ignoring facts.”

Even the best of our fact-checking friends — the Google Search Bar — is misleading users with personalized searches and biased results. Despair prevails.

Do not despair.

The Age of Deception requires critical thought, questions, and more footwork than ever before., but as long as consumers battle deceivers with awareness and knowledge, we will prevail.

It’s an Age of Deception, and an age of tabloids with false studies and fake news, but now you know, and as G.I. Joe would say, “knowing is half the battle.

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