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18 Rules of Disinformation

We’ve already examined Informal Fallacies, Formal Fallacies, and how to respond to them. Next, I am going to examine 18 rules of disinformation, taken from Twenty-Five Ways To Suppress Truth: The Rules of Disinformation by H. Michael Sweeney.

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

Regardless of what you do know, don’t discuss. Hide information.  Suppress the free market of ideas. Argue for ideas that don’t matter, regardless of their merit.

Proper response: None, unless you know the content beforehand. If so, disclose the necessary information.

Become incredulous and indignant.

Avoid the key issue and instead, focus on moot side issues which “can be used show the topic as being critical of some otherwise sacrosanct group or theme” (Sweeney). Also known as the “How dare you” tactic. Use a tone of voice that implies “how could the opponent’s say such a thing!”

Proper response: Bring it back to the root issue.

Create rumor-mongers.

Over-emotionalize the issue, without evidence, by creating rumors and accusations. Point out faults with your opponents’ style, rather than substance. Use heart-wrenching stories that aren’t even applicable just for the sake of evoking emotion.

Proper response: Respond by emphasizing evidence (or lack of it). See this on how to create your own counter-pathos. Be orators, not debaters.

Straw man.

As previously written, a straw man is “making an opponent’s argument out to be something it actually isn’t, then responding to that made-up argument.” This is most commonly done in regards to interpretation of an expert’s testimony (commonly referred to as “evidence” in debate circles). Associate opponent charges with old news. De-legitimize the claim with the similar (but not the exact) original charge.

Proper response: Demonstrate how the argument was mistreated or misconstrued and why the original argument still stands.

Sidetrack opponents with name calling and ridicule.

A form of an ad hominem attack, define the opponent with a label rather than inferior argumentation.

Proper response: Explain that such an approach implies “guilt by association and attack[s] truth on the basis of the messenger” (Sweeney).

Hit and Run.

Make a brief attack on the opponent’s position, and then quickly withdraw to avoid responsibility for the argument or appropriate support for it. Examples include 2AR abuse, statements such as “X is true, but anyways….,” and “speed and spread” where to subsequently ignore responded-to arguments.

Proper response: Prioritize the arguments and win only on the ones that matter. Grouping arguments is also an effective tactic. Use Impact Calculus (see this, this, and this to learn how).

Question motives.

Imply the opponent has questionable motives, such as a hidden agenda or other bias, putting them on the defensive.

Proper response: See Rule 5.

Invoke authority.

Pretend to be authoritative on the subject and jargonize the discussion, as Gorgias did.

Proper response: One’s presumed interpretation of the truth is independent of the truth.

Play dumb.

“No matter what evidence or logical argument is offered, avoid discussing issues with denial they have any credibility, make any sense, provide any proof, contain or make a point, have logic, or support a conclusion. Mix well for maximum effect” (Sweeney).

Proper response: Preempt by being clear from the start.

Establish and rely upon fall-back positions.

Neglect to demonstrate an important position, later apologize for making the mistake and evoke sympathy while avoiding the important issue(s).

Proper response: Establish standards of proof early on. These can be evidence standards or any other type of standard of proof.

Enigmas have no solution.

Paint the big picture as too complex to solve.

Proper response: Explain and apply the whole-to-part fallacy.

Alice in Wonderland Logic.

Reason backward with apparent deductive logic.

Proper response: Read this on how to respond appropriately.

Fit the facts to alternate conclusions.

How this is done depends on the specific instance. See here for an example.

Proper response: Examine the facts and demonstrate how they still support the original conclusion.

Vanish evidence and witnesses.

If the evidence does not exist, the fact does not exist, and there is no need to address the issue.

Proper response: See Rule 1.

Change the subject.

Change the subject subtly. Make the opponent prove things they don’t actually have to prove. Bring up alternate problems that are related but not important. Distract, distract, distract.

Proper response: Bring it back to the root issue, hopefully, the weighing mechanism.

Emotionalize, Antagonize, and Goad Opponents.

Sweeney recommends to “make them look foolish and overly motivated, and generally render their material somewhat less coherent. Not only will you avoid discussing the issues in the first instance, but even if their emotional response addresses the issue, you can further avoid the issues by then focusing on how “sensitive they are to criticism”.”

Proper response: Be a champion of the truth without becoming drawn into overly passionate discourse and losing your cool.

Ignore proof presented, demand impossible proofs.

As a variant of the “play dumb” rule, regardless of what has already been presented demand more. Demand proof that is known to be impossible to be presented. Demand said proof to be presented in an unreasonable manner or within a specific burden. Demand complete solutions. Require the opponents to solve the problem completely.

Proper response: If X,Y,Z is enough evidence, what is? X,Y,Z is enough to warrant/substantiate the claim.

False evidence.

Falsify or fabricate evidence to manipulate the truth.

Proper response: mitigate, disclose, or call it out as much as possible.

Joshua Anumolu is in his fourth year of speech and debate. Last year, he was blessed to place 6th at the NCFCA National Championship in Team Policy debate. For him, competitive debate is about learning how to communicate truth effectively. Every round he lost, was a round he learned from to become a better communicator. He believes true mastery of rhetoric is accomplished when one finds their own balance between ethos, pathos, and logos. He loves to use debate as a platform to inform the audience of issues he cares about.

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