April 22, 2008

Down with FUD!

I had always thought this acronym stood for Fear, Unrest and Dismay, but I have just discovered that in fact it is Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.
Either way, it's a sneaky, underhand tactic involving misinformation, and it causes completely unnecessary distress.

This was brought to mind during a recent conversation with a friend ("A") who had been very upset to hear from a third party ("C") that another friend ("B") had been critical of A's work to the management of the organisation where A devoted a lot of time and effort. C implied that as a result of B's actions, future promotion of A was very unlikely.
In other words, C persuaded A that B was not the trustworthy and supportive friend A had always believed.
You probably won't be surprised to learn that in fact C presented no specific evidence to support the assertion. It wasn't needed, because A was already experiencing Uncertainty and Doubt, and C simply took advantage of that to employ classic FUD techniques.
So where does the Fear come into play? Let's go back to Wikipedia:
An appeal to fear ... is a logical fallacy in which a person attempts to create support for his or her idea by increasing fear and prejudice toward a competitor. The appeal to fear is extremely common in marketing and politics.
Of course C did not try to make A literally afraid of former friend B, but certainly when talking to me it was clear that A no longer trusted B, and the sense of failure and disillusionment had been deepened.
Remember, C did not have to provide any proof at all, because the success of FUD and similar tactics relies on exploiting existing concerns in a calculated manner.

What does the perpetrator of FUD gain?
  • In marketing or politics, the advantages of changing the direction of someone's loyalties are obvious - they will henceforth buy your products or vote for you
  • In other areas of life it can be used in a more subtle way, by gradually isolating someone from former associates and then offering them an alternative alliance. 
  • Sometimes it may achieve nothing more than intellectual satisfaction, or a sense of having influence. 
Fortunately, this cynically manipulative behaviour can be stopped very effectively, by the listener simply refusing to accept negative information that cannot be verified. Of course, this is easier to say than do, but if I can be forgiven for repeating something I wrote in a recent post about volunteer organisations,
"Making unsubstantiated claims about another person is something we see every day ... But we all need reminding that negative comments should never be based on rumour, innuendo, or mischievous misinformation. This is the basis of the famous Triple Filter Test attributed to Socrates ..."

Join the FUD Fight Today!

1 comment:

DeathOwl said...

But Socrates is just some old FUDdy duddy right?

The triple filter test should definitely be applied widely - maybe communicating it to contestants in the Apprentice would make the show a bit dull to watch tho ;-)


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