How Data Manipulation Is Used to Support the Desired Narratives

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by D.P Friesen

Who uses data manipulation? Governments, businesses (individual or entire industries as we constantly see in martial arts/self-defense), the media, and social organizations with an agenda.

These groups or organizations utilize information to create a narrative on a topic for a specific reason, most often for their own benefit. The data itself could be entirely legitimate and authentic (though it may not be). It’s how it’s spun that’s important, and most people rarely dig deeper and go…

“Hey, wait a minute, that doesn’t sound right….” 

Remember, data manipulation has multiple benefits, and it’s usually very subtle yet sudden. If it fits a person’s narrative, they will often support it. Even if it’s different from the original source manipulating the data in the first place.

With regards to crime, entities alter information for any number of reasons including:

  • create or change a market or push the value of the product (security/arms/training/surveillance)
  • alter public opinion (shift-of-perspective/vote-swaying/neighborhood growth)
  • reinforce personal/individual message, to play on public emotion (fear/anxiety/paranoia as propaganda)
  • create perceived need where there isn’t one

Ideas often become beliefs over time and in times of duress

Remember “Inception,” the Christopher Nolan movie from a few years ago? “An idea is like a virus. Resilient. Highly contagious. And even the smallest seed of an idea can grow.” 

We hypothesize and use heuristics to make assumptions about the overall picture to plan accordingly. Even when though a time always comes when those theories, hypotheses, and heuristics need to be verified concretely. It’s one thing to have them create a home base for future assessments and to expand on those ideas. It´s quite another to make assumptions and assume they stay forever the same. Eventually, statistics, case studies, and developments clearly dictate they are no longer valid. 

So, how is data manipulation done?

Data can come in many ways. It always pays to research who the data was provided by and who backs or finances that data and why. Furthermore, who stands to benefit by putting out said data? Consider for a moment the numbers that came out of China early in the pandemic, as well as the numbers coming out of the United States.

Spinning a positive or negative message from the data source by selecting a skewed portion of the data is often done. So is subtly changing the narrative of what that data means. To accomplish this, a small sample size is used to represent an entire geographic area to distract from a full analysis of data pertaining to a specific location, time, or demographic.

What are some tactics of “them”?

“They”:

  • pick partial data sets, small sample sizes, or isolated demographic information that DOES NOT reflect the overall whole.
  • use hyperbolic catch-phrases and buzz-words that, when people are already anxious, scared or stressed, amplifies their fear causing them to make irrational decisions that aren´t a reflection of their actual existence.
  • peddle their related products and services claimed to alleviate that problem and get people to invest from emotion, thinking this is needed to rectify the current issue. (Invest now! This product will save your life! Take these actions! This precaution is necessary, or you´re f***ed!) It´s the ultimate impulse-buy, based on super-charged emotion and panic.
  • use unverified information not backed by any legitimate body (read: without agenda outside of the data´s accuracy itself) or subject-matter expertise that seems to come out of thin air and without revealing who is benefitting behind the scenes in any way and without some astute digging.
  • aim their message at particularly vulnerable segments of the population – seniors, children, single women, the infirm or ill, immigrants have been past examples – that, because of that vulnerability – are far more apt to take immediate and drastic action to ensure their safety.

So, what are examples of this in the area of crime and violence in my neck of the woods?

Example #1: Telling people crime is universally on the rise

Telling people an increase in a certain kind of crime (murder, for instance) reflects a widespread elevation of violence, suggesting crime is universally on the rise.

Questions that we need to ask:

  • In what area? All parts of the city/province-state/country?
  • Who’s getting murdered – is it a specific demographic?
  • What were some choices made by the victim that could’ve altered the narrative?
  • What were the victims doing, where, why, and when?
  • Shouldn’t each case be assessed independently from others and of its own volition – with context and circumstance?

Example #2: Issuing public warnings to alleviate responsibility 

When three separate female tourists were killed here, I received almost immediate notice from the Canadian government, issuing security warnings on higher risks of violence in Costa Rica to Canadian residents and ex-patriots. Not even close, though I get why they’re obligated to do this for their citizens abroad. All three incidents were unique unto themselves. At least some victim-naivete contributed to the crimes.

That was late last year, 2018. There have been no further tourist murders since. CR tourism has not generally suffered as could be expected. And the panic has gone quiet. However, I bet the security, arms, and surveillance industries flourished for a time. As well as the political party righting the ship so quickly gained future votes. 

Questions we need to ask:

  • Does it affect me directly?
  • Are isolated incidents a reflection of the overall national safety?
  • Who have been the targets, and what could they have done differently? Do statistics reflect this warning?

Example #3: Creating false data from scratch

A few years ago, when we had a medical tourism facilitation business, the statistics for foreign medical-procedure investment grew every year. Often in double-digits according to the national medical tourism promotional body. But whenever you’d contact the very same hospitals administration department where the statistics were supposedly compiled from, they were perplexed.

The promotional body projects these statistics globally (important for market confidence). They’ve tried to get funding from the government-run international tourism board for years but to no avail (someone doesn’t seem to be buying the stats sheet). And they were in danger of becoming redundant (which they now are as a broader-perspective body has replaced them not at all limited to a small market specialization).

Questions we need to ask:

  • Where was the data taken from, and what is the source?
  • Who compiled the data?
  • Based on what sample size and from whom?
  • Did an impartial entity do it?

Example #4: Media fear-mongering

By sensationalizing one story, the media can build anxiety, stress, and fear in a market for viewership, popularity, and ratings. Fear-mongering is often the most transparent and easy-to-catch if one is coherent and questioning. 

Here we have a newspaper that posts dead bodies on the front page, shows murdered corpses, half-naked women on the front, and glorifies violence. While one would think it wouldn’t have legs in a staunchly Catholic, conservative, passive-aggressive society, it’s quite the opposite. Remember, “all press is good press” for many, and they’ve found a comfortable niche regardless of the comments on classlessness and inappropriateness.

Selco writes about the media and social platform’s tactic of manipulated rage in this article on the riots in France, 2018.

Questions we need to ask:

  • How are their ratings?
  • Do they have a history of hyperbole?
  • What’s their agenda, and what are their general political leanings?
  • Who owns the station?
  • How could they benefit from a knee-jerk reaction to their sensationalism?

Example #5: Propaganda used to create violence

Propaganda can intentionally increase crime and violence, as we saw here in CR a short time ago. Governments, groups, and businesses know this.

As Daisy wrote about the Mass Shootings Map in June 2019:

But, you see, the map is BS. It’s a big old truckload of baloney sandwiches, steaming in the sun. It’s a manipulation that is being used to frighten people into thinking they’d be safer if none of us had the tools that we need to protect ourselves. It’s a scare tactic, meant to frighten those who won’t think more deeply about the issue. It’s for people who read the headlines, but not the articles.

Another example: self-defense authorities make vast, general claims about the state of current society to peddle fear and stress in potential clients without the data. **”Crime is always rising. Murders are way up. Rapes are on the increase, and women are in danger. We’ve never lived in a more dangerous time.” The narrative never changes – you’ll be vulnerable if you don’t take their classes, regardless of whether those classes peddle a martial art with zero relevance to this time. If you don’t learn (their) self-defense, you’re naïve and ignorant. You are lazy, and a host of other ad-hominins thrown your way to guilt you into investing. 

**There’s generally no data to back this up as we live in the safest time in recorded human history outside of countries with already-prevalent internal strife. 

Questions we need to ask:

  • What style are they peddling?
  • What program (women’s self-defense, seniors, kids, adult males)?
  • Do statistics and data back their claims?
  • Does the current community level of violence jive with their promo material?
  • Is what they teach pertinent to my current daily living and environment?

The reality is we “manipulate” data all the time

We generalize, distort, and delete parts of stories and anecdotes regularly to fit our personal narrative, manipulate others, or convince ourselves of something. Filtered information fills our conversations. Whether intentional or unintentional, sometimes it helps us positively, sometimes not. 

We’re all experts at data manipulation and propaganda. Therefore, it’s wise to look at the information with an unbiased eye, or at least as unbiased as that eye can be. Asking these questions and identifying the type of message and data go a long way towards understanding how people can manipulate data and utilize propaganda to promote messages, even on crime and violence.

From what I see daily, current technological distractions and information-bombardment (coupled with personal factors like confirmation bias, decreased attention-spans, micro-relatability) are considerable factors in others’ ability to pull this off successfully. Relating to our personal safety and (especially) our mental health, be extremely cautious with the (often subliminal) messaging that bombards you.

And ask the right questions.

What do you think about data manipulation?

Do you have some examples of data manipulation you’ve seen over the past few years? Do you believe it’s done to add gravity to a handy narrative? Does it make you more likely to discount headlines and statistics?

Share your thoughts about data manipulation in the comments.

About DP Friesen

DP Friesen is an author, martial artist, public-speaker, counter-violence instructor know in industry circles for his common sense, holistic, grounded, cerebral and logical approach to the modern personal defense spectrum. 

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10 Responses

  1. This is a very timely article. But it only really covers one side of the issue.
    They also SUPRESS data that is Inconvenient to the Narrative they are pushing.

    This is common with local crime in general. Most crimes never make the news. Something like less than 10% of all crime, is covered by the news. This lulls the general public into believing that they are safe and secure, when they are not. The reasons behind this vary.
    I was on the PD in a small town and we had a suicide in one of the local motels that was kept out of the newspaper(our main local news source). In order to prevent damage to the motel and to the perception of the city’s, public charm. The city relied a lot on tourism, vacation homes and property, sales.
    The Husband had returned to the same room, (same day, but one year later) after his wife had killed herself there. They had both traveled up there from the nearby Big city.
    Of course the original suicide of the wife was covered up also.
    It was just one of many “cover ups” of crimes and other events that never made to news, to keep the public’s image of a cute, sleepy, little town, with almost zero crime, drugs or other adverse events.

    This happens a lot in big Cities also, partly because the sheer volume of events, but also to hide the truth. Public perception, drives Convention events, Sport team location, Stadium building, Concerts, etc. All the big money events that cities make lots of tax dollars from.

    Once SHTF hits, You will see first hand the ugly truth of how bad the criminality of the general public has become, First hand.
    Most people will be terribly shocked, having been lulled into a state of Naivety and of
    Complacency. All because the Truth has been hidden from you. So beware.
    Especially those thinking of “bugging in”, in a city, town or in a location nearby to one of those places.

  2. There was a video yesterday going around the people I know on social media talking about a looming food shortage. While the video may be completely accurate it also could be a carefully crafted compilation of unrelated info designed to look connected and current. Because of the way it is put together, clips from various sources with no way to find the original material, there is no way of easily verifying it.
    Another thing is that they create organizations so that they appear to be independent/impartial sources but who are funded by a special interest group.

  3. Dear Daisy,
    This is a wonderful article. All of this techniques and methods have been used by the ruling mafia.

    Including fake videos, and taking pictures of a few people in the events in a very narrow shot to make the viewer believe the place is full of people, when this is not true.
    It´s the same manipulation all over the world.

  4. They always use numbers to reinforce lies because you have been conditioned since childhood that “The numbers never lie.”
    But government numbers are always lies.

  5. I find all sides tend to manipulate things to fit their needs the harder they lean.

    Look at specific cases rather than media talking points. Use that to try and make your own educated decisions.

    Of course there’s a 100% chance that maybe I’m probably right or wrong.

  6. Also pay attention to what they are not saying.

    Also note who may be paying for a study, or white paper etc. Or if that author just so happens to receive a lot of “grants” from a particular company or lobbying group affiliated with a particular company.

    A few weeks ago, I was listening to NPR (I know, I know) as they breathlessly reported on the Delta variant. They would tout percentages, but never give actual case numbers, numbers of beds a hospital had, how many ICU beds. Just the percentages.

  7. If you want to know what the weather is – just look out your window. It’s not like TV. It shows you a near 180º view instantly.

    Someone told me did you see all the people dying of COVID on TV. I said 100,000’s of thousands of people die every day in third world countries.

    It could have been a normal way they dispose of their dead but the MSM uses that to FOOL you about the virus and that is really really WRONG of them.

  8. Data is also compiled by tricky questions. The question is posed in such a way that you wind up answering the way they want. Fear is a great manipulator. Have you noticed when cities want to cut their budgets the first things they cut are fire departments, police departments and parks? The public responds by just saying no to cuts instead of looking at what and where cuts can be made. It’s terrible we have to be so constantly on guard of these types of manipulation.

  9. The one manipulation that really bugged me was the hockey stick graph that told us the temperature was climbing like a Hockey Stick to get you to fear the coming climate change! You have not seen it for quite a while because the actual temps did not, in fact, climb.

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