COMMENTARY: Political Persuasion

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More than 60 years ago, in 1957, Vance Packard wrote a book that shocked America. His book, "The Hidden Persuaders" was an expose that demonstrated how advertisers and politicians were trying to influence American consumers and voters. More from MTSU Professor of Journalism, Dr. Larry Burris:

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Packard described how advertisers use psychological techniques to convince consumers to do what the advertisers want. That is, buy more products.

He further expanded the notion of psychological manipulation to include politicians seeking votes. Given events involving Facebook over the last week or so, this certainly sounds familiar.

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But there is another similarity: after the book was published its conclusions were widely accepted by the general population, but not by advertisers and academics, who said it was sensationalistic and unreliable.

Somehow, those are the same kinds of arguments we hear today, with both sides claiming access to the truth, and that the other side just doesn't understand the realities of the world.

This is not to demean or ignore the very real concerns and complaints people are having about their personal lives being bought and sold like so much ground beef or cans of soup.

And whose fault is all of this? Every social media site I can think of makes it very clear they are going to use anything you tell them for marketing. In other words, they are going to sell anything you tell them. After all, that's how they make money, by selling your information.

Of course, Congress could force social media companies to tell us what they are doing with our information, and who they are selling it to. But it's a safe bet such a proposal would be blocked by politicians, advertisers and information brokers

As Edward R. Murrow said some three years before "The Hidden Persuaders" in regards to fake news and media manipulation, "The Hidden Persuaders" was published, "The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

I'm Larry Burriss.

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