In 2002, French writer Sylvain Timsit published a decalogue of the strategies most frequently used by the media and political elites to manipulate the masses.
It is a list that has been attributed by a press error to Noam Chomsky, a philosopher, linguist, and politician who has also described how, through entertainment, the media succeed in reproducing certain relations of domination.
Timsit's list has become very popular because it describes in a concrete way ten situations in which we could probably all identify ourselves. The following is a summary presentation of Sylvain Timsit's strategies for manipulating public opinion and society.
1. Encouraging distraction.
Distraction is a cognitive process that consists of paying attention to some stimuli and not to others involuntarily and for various reasons, including the interest generated by those stimuli and the intensity or attractiveness of those stimuli. It is a process that can easily be used as a strategy to divert attention from political or economic conflicts. It is usually done by encouraging information overload, or when such information contains a strong emotional charge.
For example, when news programmes devote entire days to tragic events and minimize the time devoted to reporting on problematic political developments. This type of distraction encourages disinterest in acquiring accurate knowledge about important issues and in discussing the long-term implications of political decisions.
2. Create the problems as well as the solutions.
The author explains this method by means of the formula: problem-reaction-solution, and explains that a situation can be explained with the full intention of causing a specific reaction to a specific audience, so that this audience demands measures and decisions to solve the situation.
For example, when political powers remain indifferent to the increase in violence in a city, and then deploy police laws that affect freedom and not only decrease violence. The same is true when an economic crisis is defined as a necessary evil that can only be countered by cuts in public services.
3. Appealing to gradualism.
This refers to implementing changes that are significant gradually, so that public and political reactions are equally gradual and easier to contain.
Sylvain Timsit gives as an example the neoliberal socio-economic policies that began in the 1980s, which have had a gradual impact without their negative consequences giving way to a revolution to counterbalance them.
4. Do, defer and leave for tomorrow
Many of the measures taken by governments are not popular among the population, so one of the most used and effective strategies is to make people think that the measure is painful but necessary, and that it is necessary to agree on it now, although its effects will be felt years later.
In this way, we become accustomed to the process of change and even to its negative consequences, and as it is not an issue that affects us immediately, we can more easily associate ourselves with the possible risks. As an example, Sylvain Timsit mentions the changeover to the euro, which was proposed in 1994-1995, but was not implemented until 2001, or the international agreements that the US imposed in Latin America in 2001, but which began to enter into force around 2005.
4. Infantilizing the interlocutor.
Another frequently used strategy is to position the public as naïve or incapable of taking responsibility for themselves, or of making critical and responsible decisions. By positioning viewers in this way, the media and political powers make it easier for the public to effectively identify with that position and end up accepting the imposed measures and even supporting them with conviction.
5. Appeal more to emotions than to reflection.
This refers to sending messages that have a direct impact on the emotional and sensitive register of the public, so that, through fear, compassion, hope, illusion, among other emotions or sensations, it is easier to implant ideals of success, or norms of behaviour and interpersonal relationships.
6. Recognizing the other as ignorant and mediocre.
This strategy is reflected, for example, in the significant differences between the quality of education and the resources allocated to it according to the socio-economic and political class to which it is directed. This results in the use of technologies being reserved for the few, which in turn makes large-scale social organization difficult. It also means that some populations recognize themselves as simply victims, with no possibility of playing an active role in their present and future.
7. Promoting complacency in mediocrity.
The aim is to reinforce the feeling of success and satisfaction with the situation in which we find ourselves, even if it is a precarious or unjust situation, which means that we do not develop critical thinking about this situation or even justify it.
8. Reinforcing self-blame.
At the other extreme, we make people think that the situation we are in is our fault, that is, we make them believe that they are responsible for their own misfortune (that they feel that they are not very intelligent or that they do not make enough effort, instead of recognizing that there is a social system that tends towards injustice). This prevents the organization and exercise of resistance or revolt. People tend to self-evaluate and blame themselves, which in turn generates passivity and favours the appearance of other complications, such as depressive or anxious states. A perfect example of the effects derived from these is that presently is when most anxiolytics and antidepressants are being consumed by the population, along history.
10. Knowing people better than they know themselves.
Timsit argues that the advances that science has made in understanding human beings, whether in the areas of psychology, social psychology, biology or neuroscience, have achieved greater knowledge about how we function; however, they have not generated a process of self-knowledge at the individual level, with the result that the elites continue to be the possessors of wisdom and control over others.