Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The "let them think it's their idea" trick

vote symbol: suggestion
vote symbol: suggestion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One of the more subtle tricks in propaganda, or mass manipulation of opinions, is "suggestion".

We are always subject to psychological pressures, both overt and subtle. If we are not responsive to such pressures, then peer pressure and "cultural norm" like shame would not exist. Suggestion is a more subtle form of psychological pressure.

One of the more devious tricks in suggestion is the "let them think it's their idea" trick. Basically, instead of saying things outright, you instead hint, suggest, allude, or point people toward the conclusion you WANT them to reach, but never outright say it. You want the idea to be formed by your target, that it is THEIR idea, so they hold to their idea as their own.  Once they thought THEY had came up with the idea, they would defend it.

Advertisements are masters of suggestion. Ever seen liquor ads that features great parties, beautiful women dancing, people having a good time, then it cuts to HUGE shots of the bottle of liquor, glasses with ice, that takes up most of the screen, with the party faintly seen and music muted to a distant murmur in the background? Yep, that's a suggestion that not only linked the liquor to good times, but also implied the liquor is larger than life. It pulls at your various emotions like envy, like / love. It never actually said "this liquor is the best, drink it". It merely hinted the message: "to have a good time, drink this."

Online pyramid schemes and ponzi schemes often use power of suggestion to induce members to defend the scheme using whatever excuse they can think of. Such schemes will present evidence such as:
  • have business license
  • have paid out money to participants (testimonials)
  • have office 
  • have associations with biggest names in the business
  • and so on
They simply claim "up-and-coming success", "next giant in _____ industry", and so on. They never say they are legal and so on. They simply IMPLY that they are legitimate. They may even have a slogan like "we share success" or "we touch lives'. The members are asked to register, then invest money, AND recruit their friends, thus become fully committed to the company. 

After repeated exposure, the target believe the company *had* to be legitimate, and would NEVER consider that it may not be, even after the government shut the company down as a scam.  

People invested with a scam would defend it, sometimes with their lives and money. When Colombia shut down the Grupo DMG ponzi in 2008 some participants went on hunger strike protesting the shutdown. In India, when SpeakAsia scam was shut down by regulators for being a Ponzi scheme, members formed AISPA and fought government investigations in court, even paid off one complainant to impede government investigations. 

People invested with the scam never considered that there may be a side they had not considered. The "evidence" they have of legitimacy may not mean what they think. For example:
  • The business license only proves that the business is properly registered, not that it is complying with all applicable laws. (For example, Zeekler, the auction firm, was found to have operated for a full year without an auctioneer's license)
  • Had paid out money to participants is the "it paid me" argument which is more akin to a fallacy then proof
  • The office may be a virtual office or a shell office (not real location, only for paperwork)

How do you spot "suggestions" being used on you? Watch for three signs
  • Simplicity -- the message is simple and direct
  • Confidence -- the message is delivered with confidence
  • Repetition -- the message is repeated over and over
A slogan or a tagline is often a sign of "suggestion" at work, as it embodies all three. Here are three actual taglines / slogans
  • Success sharing phenomenon
  • We touch lives globally
  • Hope for Car Owners
Two of these are attached to actual scams. Third one is... unsure thus far. 

Watch out for people out to "suggest" things to you. 

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