Browse Day

February 3, 2016

Master of Manipulation

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I’m going to share a secret about manipulation with you. Please do not use this powerful method for sinister deeds.

But first . . .

Disclosure 1: Before I get to the Master Manipulator Model, some important background. I work professionally in the field of persuasion and influence. I even invented a workshop that helps big companies make their stuff more persuasive.

The point is, I study persuasion, and manipulation is persuasion’s cousin. So I study manipulation a lot, too. (But I try only to use my powers for good.)

Disclosure 2: Ben Carson is my favorite presidential candidate, and I will continue to support him while he remains in the race. So maybe I’m just looking out for my guy, who happens to be a good and great man.

Background: At the Iowa Caucuses, Cruz supporters informed Carson supporters that Ben Carson had dropped out of the race. Ben Carson was furious, and justifiably so. The Cruz tactic was extremely dirty.

What made Cruz’s sinister tactic all the dirtier was that it probably corrupted otherwise decent, honest people. People who would never want to win by lying. Or maybe they would. But I bet they wouldn’t.

In other words, Ted Cruz’s campaign tricked honest people into lying to their neighbors. So if you’re one of the Cruz supporters who spread this falsehood, you probably feel bad about yourself right now.

Your feelings are understandable. They’re normal. You just took a logical step based on the incomplete information you were fed — information that supported a narrative that you wanted to be true.

But you did, in fact, invent and spread a lie. And Cruz’s campaign wanted you to. And it’s not really  your fault. Well, it is, but it’s not. Really. You were manipulated by a master manipulator.

Cruz’s logic was simple: A lot of Carson supporters called Cruz their second choice. If Cruz could make Carson’s supporters believe Carson had left the race, many of them would caucus for Cruz. While I can find no exit polls to verify, it’s safe to assume that some people who intended to vote for Carson instead voted for Cruz believing Carson had dropped out of the race. Based on polling of second-favorite candidates, Cruz would get the lion’s share of the duped Carson supporters.

Cruz Stonewalled: Just as Ted Cruz refused to apologize for a VOTER VIOLATION mailer that used apparently faked data to shame people into voting, so he initially refused to apologize for his campaign’s falsehoods about Dr. Carson.

Cruz Caved: As the lie became undeniable, Cruz relented and apologized to Ben Carson, who graciously accepted Cruz’s apology.

Cruz’s Weak Explanation: In several interviews, Cruz has defended the lie about Carson with spin about a CNN report. Only the CNN report didn’t say what Cruz’s campaign (and especially what Cruz’s duped supporters) say it said.

Instead, CNN reported accurately that Carson was  stopping off in Florida before returning to the campaign trail. As CNN describes it:

We reported it accurately. And here are the facts. Dr. Carson’s staff told us that he would return home to Florida to, quote, unquote, take a breath from the campaign before resuming his activities on the campaign trail. That accurate report was disseminated on television, and CNN digital and that was that.

The Cruz campaign simply ignored the part about “before resuming his activities” and replaced  it with “and will have a big announcement next week.”

(Note: I can find nowhere that CNN mentions “big announcement next week.” Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. But the Cruz campaign says they did.)

Then the Cruz campaign encouraged supporters to inform Carson’s supporters.

And so they did. And that bit of encouragement is critical to the Master Manipulator Model.

Master Manipulator Model

In other words, the Cruz campaign didn’t say “Carson is dropping.” Instead they carefully manipulated Cruz supporters to take the next step. The Cruz campaign led good people into crafting and spreading their own lies.

Pretty rotten.

The easiest way to get someone to embrace  a lie is to let them craft the lie themselves. This is Mental Manipulation 101.

Here’s how it works:

Say you really, really want a new laptop for your birthday. Your sister wants you to be disappointed when you don’t get one. And she doesn’t want you getting a new computer that’ll be newer and better than hers.

Then your sister sees your mom looking at an online ad for the new Apple MacBook. Your mom says, “I wish I could afford one of those” under her breath (inconvenient qualifier).

So your sister tells you, “Guess what. Don’t you want a new laptop for your birthday?”

“Yeah,” you say.

“Well, don’t tell mom I told you (gain trust), but guess what she’s been shopping for on the internet (spark imagination),” your sister says, smiling.

“A laptop?”

“A MacBook. The new MacBook!” she says.

How long will it be before you tell your friends, “I’m getting a new MacBook for my birthday?”

Not long, because your master-manipulator sister adds, “your friends will be so jealous!”

Hook set.

And how firmly you will believe it, having completed your sister’s thought yourself.

And how desperately disappointed you will be when you open up a nice sweater on your birthday.

It’s so easy to get people to believe something they want to believe. Propagandists do it all the time.

And by not telling a lie–by not completing the lie–the manipulator maintains plausible deniability.

Cruz’s campaign didn’t say “Ben Carson has suspended his campaign.” They didn’t have to.

They let their otherwise honest and rational supporters say that. The Cruz campaign manipulated people into lying. The campaign just gave Cruz caucusers evidence to support a narrative the caucusers were predisposed to believe.

What makes this manipulation technique particularly sinister is that it encourages innocent people to craft and tell their own lies.

Which means they feel ownership of the lie–much more ownership than if they’d just read and repeated a lie someone else crafted. And when the manipulated people discover they’ve created and repeated a lie? Well, if they’re good people, they probably feel terrible about themselves. They feel guilty. They feel vulnerable.

But they also feel a stronger allegiance to their manipulator. They shared in the deceitful act. They are comrades.

The Master Manipulators increases his follower’s allegiance by offering protection to the manipulated, as Ted Cruz did today with this statement:

But this is not a campaign that scapegoats our staffers, that holds someone out there and fires them for political purpose. No, we’re not going to scapegoat anybody.

And the manipulator will attempt to assuage your guilt. Cruz continued:

And I would note that the news story that [our team] passed on was true and accurate. CNN reported it. And in fact, Ben did go to Florida instead of New Hampshire or South Carolina.

Well, not exactly right, Senator. As we saw earlier, Cruz’s campaign added the “big announcement” piece, apparently from whole cloth. And Cruz’s team left off the part that Carson would return to the campaign trail next week. (Inconvenient qualifier)

But Cruz does demonstrate Master Manipulator skills by covering for the people who completed the lie in their own minds and told the falsehood with their own tongues. The manipulated feel protected. They feel an increased need to defend their manipulator. Senator Cruz vowed that no one would be fired or disciplined for the manipulation despite Dr. Carson’s belief someone should.

And somewhere deep inside, the manipulated feel just twinge of guilt like a spot that won’t wash out.

Sinister.

Update: Twitter follower @1Guesst notes that Cruz’s campaign manager was involved a similar stunt in a 2010 race in Missouri. And, remember, you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.