Seniors: How to Identify Fear-Mongering Tactics

Aug 23rd, 2010 | By Sharon Shaw Elrod MSW EdD | Category: Senior Moments Blog

An annoying issue in the political-media can actually turn in to dangerous and intimidating manipulation.  We’re referring to fear-mongering assaults that are primarily directed toward the burgeoning senior citizen retired population, although younger generations can also be affected.

Wikipedia defines fear-mongering thus:

“Fear mongering (or scaremongering) is the use of fear to influence the opinions and actions of others towards some specific end. The feared object or subject is sometimes exaggerated, and the pattern of fear mongering is usually one of repetition, in order to continuously reinforce the intended effects of this tactic, sometimes in the form of a vicious circle.”

The unscrupulous tactic originated during the McCarthy era, when American citizens were absolutely terrified of Communists taking over the world.  People were convinced through fear mongering tactics that they had to support the horrendous battering of innocent people perpetrated by McCarthy.

Fear-mongering continues to be used today, especially in the political world, to try to influence voters.  Seniors are especially vulnerable to such ploys because of our advancing years, as well as having been raised in an era in which we were admonished not to question others; we are supposed to be polite, and that makes us easy targets for scheming politicians and media pundits.

So how do we know what is truth and what is fear-mongering?  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Fear-mongering takes advantage of emotionally charged language, e.g. ‘Death Panels” and “They’re going to kill Grandma”.  Seniors become frightened at these phrases because many of us fear death; to hear that a person in authority is saying a panel of medical people could cause our death is terrifying, and we are swayed to oppose the legislation that creates “Death Panels” and supports “killing Grandma”.  That’s fear-mongering.  
  2. Fear-mongering uses frequent repetition to reinforce the fear.  The more often you hear a phrase that instills fear, the more your fear grows.  And the more certain you are to vote the way you are being manipulated to vote.
  3. Observing responses of friends and family members to frequently repeated, emotionally charged phrases heard on television, radio and the newspapers is helpful to identify fear-mongering.  The scheme tends to work on masses of people.  If almost everyone you know expresses fear about something they heard on television or radio, the pundit or politician is probably using fear to influence seniors’ views and opinions.

What to do?  The Internet in our world today offers many opportunities to ask questions about what someone is telling us.  Using your favorite search engine (Google, Ask, Bing,Yahoo!, etc), you can enter the phrase you want to gather information about and a gazillion responses will pop up on your monitor screen.  You can then begin to take a look at what others are saying about the issue.  There will be a lot of blog responses, and we all need to remember that blogs are opinions of the blogger–may or may not have any basis in reality.  Many of them are fun to read, but they are not authoritative for the most part.  

The better options will be based on research, with experts and authorities cited.  Those citations will have links embedded (the blue print that you see in articles) and you can click on those links and go to the original authority.  Once you understand what is ‘true’ about the issue in question, you have a much better handle on dealing with fear.  What is true may in fact be cause for alarm, but facts generally reassure us, even when we know the dangers involved. 

In 1597, Sir Francis Bacon said, ”Knowledge is power.”  Knowledge based on factual information opens the door for a reasoned response instead of a fear-mongering, knee-jerk reaction.



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  1. [...] Thanks to the Internet, we have information available that helps us understand what the ACA does and does not provide. Unfortunately, we also have statements being made and circulated on the Internet about the health law that are well outside the realm of reality. In fact, some of what is being circulated falls into the category of fear-mongering. [...]

  2. [...] Citizen Journal has written in the past about attempts of politicians to manipulate senior citizen opinion through scare tactics.  They know that if they can just get us frightened enough, we will do whatever they tell us we [...]

  3. [...] program in a negative light and influence negative perceptions.  It appears to be an attempt to manipulate public opinion, once again.  Sigh.// For senior citizens, Social Security and Medicare have been cast in the [...]

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