Comment // Mind

The Weekly Nudge

In this weekly blog I will be taking a look at those articles that are written or edited in a way that encourages the reader to develop a bias towards, or against, the subject of the article. This technique is most commonly referred to as 'nudging'. In some cases the desired result is obvious, however sometimes the objective is hidden behind a tapestry of entertaining, or controversial, literature.

Social nudging is a technique that is employed in all media, whether it is deliberate or not. All media is compiled by a human being (or beings) that has an opinion which will shape the work they produce. It is only the most diligent of writers and artists and political commentators that can produce something that does not convey their own opinion in the hope that others will agree; I will be guilty of it myself in this article. However sometimes this is done deliberately with the guiding hand of editorial, ensuring that just the right language and arguments are used.

An example of just how prevalent 'nudging' is in todays society would be the Government's own 'Behavioural Insights Team'. The organisation claims to 'apply insights from academic research in behavioural economics and psychology to public policy and services'; or, in other words, use research, influenced by government funding, to manipulate the general public through public policy and services so that we have a certain opinion, or behave a certain way that is desired by those in government.

Perhaps the biggest thing to keep in mind when considering media propaganda, or nudging, is that for the most part the writers themselves do not know what they are a part of. In many cases they are writing what they have been told to write in the style they are given. They are completely, in most cases I believe, unaware of the agenda being carried out by those above them, and are simply reporting what they have seen or heard, in the very small time they have been given to produce their article. 

That said, lets look at the heaviest nudge this week.

The Ebola 'crisis' has featured in the news every day this week. Currently the virus has infected approx. 4000 people, killing roughly half. Before we look at the media storm that has surrounded this news story, it is important to note that, in terms of viruses, Ebola is not the most fatal; according to the World Health Organisation (trust them out our peril) influenza kills on average 250k to 500k people every year. I do not wish to undermine the suffering that people are going through, or the lives that have been lost --- any life lost is tragic --- but the virus' low annual fatality count is something to consider when analysing the media frenzy, which would have us believe that we are all going to be struck down tomorrow with Ebola.

But if the threat to the UK is minimal, or unlikely, what would be the reason for such media attention? 

On tuesday the 9th Sept the Daily Mail, one of the biggest proponents of this story, published an article that warned us that we need to wash our hands at work because infections can spread from an office door handle to half the workforce in just 2 hours; interesting timing considering the media attention on Ebola. A connection? unnecessarily unnerving people? I think so.

In case we hadn't got the message that bacteria and germs have us surrounded, just waiting for the opportunity to ambush us and hijack our bodies, the following thursday, sept. 11, the Daily Mail published the same article with a slightly different heading (those crafty editors) in a bid to make sure that we understand that we are surrounded by potentially dangerous germs all the time. Repeat; repeat; repeat is an important mantra if we are to nudge people into a certain way of thinking.

If we cast our minds back over the years, we should recall the bird flue scare, which was followed by the swine flue scare, both of which had vaccines ready to go. Remarkably, a few weeks in and scientists believe they will soon have a vaccination ready at hand. Amazing! We can't find a cure for cancer, but we can for Ebola within weeks. Many sceptical commentators have suggested that the people of Guinea and the rest of West Africa are being used to trial experimental drugs and that the virus itself was deliberately introduced, however this has yet to be proven beyond doubt.

So, just what do articles like this do to our psyche? Well, how will you feel the next time you hear someone sneeze on the train? will you be more likely to move away? perhaps not at the moment, but, given further injection of these sorts of articles, perhaps with more future scares, people will be less inclined to have physical contact, and more inclined to vaccinate.

The Daily Mail article suggests that we should disinfect everything with wipes that contain quaternary ammonium compounds, registered by the EPA, and to generally be afraid; don't touch that light switch you might get ill, is the message aimed at the subconscious. 

It is in fact a message that has been bombarding us for decades; be afraid of germs; be afraid of bacteria; be afraid of the natural world. It is a message that has led us into ignorance along with a rise in ailments and allergies, illness and compromised immune systems. Why? Because we are made of bacteria.

Whether we recognise it or not, this sort of drive in the media belongs in the 'Depopulation Agenda' folder. Whilst we fear the threats of Ebola, swine flue, bird flue, or even the common cold, we will disinfect like crazy, inadvertently creating a very real threat to our health by destroying the very thing that our bodies need to survive and grow strong: bacteria and germs.