How to Avoid the Spin of Fake News

Strategies to be aware of, used by top public communicators.

By Sean McDowell Published on July 5, 2018

It is no secret that we live in a world of fake news. There is a professional industry committed to spinning news, manipulating stories, selling us products, and convincing us to support certain candidates. Not all of these are necessarily dishonest, but many are.

Since ideas have consequences, what is the best way to avoid fake news? What is the best strategy to avoid manipulation?

One vital step is simply to be aware of the underlying strategies and tactics used by those who aim to spin stories. Simply recognizing common methods can provide significant power to avoid bad ideas.

In his book On Thinking Institutionally, Hugh Heclo offers eight strategies used by top public communicators. I encourage you to read these slowly and to try and think of examples where you have seen them in the media today.

  • Keep the message simple (as opposed to addressing complexities).
  • Appeal to emotion (Don’t reason with the audience).
  • Frame issues in a way that drives people to your desired outcome (instead of informing people about the depths of an issue).
  • Communicate with confidence (don’t show uncertainty or ignorance).
  • Avoid self-criticism (rather than aiming to correct your mistakes).
  • Speak as if you have the entire answer (Don’t admit there are experts that may disagree with you).
  • Communicate to win (rather than to understand and communicate truth).

These strategies have become ubiquitous. Once you take the time to look for them, you will see them in political speeches, commercials, and all over social media. You will see them everywhere.

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Given the propagation of false news, even in “trusted” news sources such as Time magazine and CNN, it is natural to become jaded and cynical. I would encourage you to consider taking a different posture.

Rather than being cynical, be watchful and vigilant. Truth can be found. It is hard, and often takes time, but it is possible. You don’t have to be taken in by fake news.

Read multiple perspectives. Check your sources. And perhaps most important, start paying attention to the eight strategies above.


Sean McDowell, Ph.D., is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, the National Spokesman for Summit Ministries, a best-selling author, popular speaker, and part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog:

Originally published at Reprinted with permission.
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