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Public Opinion Manipulation Techniques: Data Manipulation & Results Misinterpretation

Data Manipulation

One of the frequent practices of propagandists is to manipulate data and misinterpret the results in an attempt to appear to be truthful and authentic.

THE EXAMPLE:

At the end of March 2018, Russian media reported that anti-Semitism had grown in Ukraine, but that Ukrainian authorities “are carefully concealing it.”

The Russian website Ukraine.ru cited a 72-page report produced by the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs of Israel showing that Ukrainian Jews had experienced more attacks (both verbal and physical) than Jews in all the republics of the former USSR.

But, the report was not based on a systematic study, nor did its authors analyze the available data collected by organizations that monitor xenophobia in Ukraine. Judging by the sources cited, the authors made a mechanical calculation of the incidents, regardless of the severity or reliability of the information. For example, both real cases of vandalism and verbal insults during the rally were counted.

A careful look at the report showed it was not an in-depth assessment of the situation. However, the anti-Semitism narrative was one of the important components of the anti-Ukrainian propaganda campaign run by the Kremlin to justify aggression against Ukraine. Therefore, the abstracts of the report concerning Ukraine were readily taken up by Russian propaganda media.

Other contrary evidence appeared in a survey of the US-based Pew Research Center of 18 countries of Central and Eastern Europe, which showed that Ukraine had the lowest percentage of anti-Semitic attitudes in Europe. In Russia, the document says, this level is almost three times higher.

RESULTS MISINTERPRETATION TECHNIQUE

Russian pro-Kremlin site Ukraina.ru published a story about Fitch Ratings’ latest outlook for Ukraine, focusing only on the negative elements and ignoring the overall stable forecast. Using only the first sentence of the Fitch report, Ukraina.ru claimed Ukraine had the third largest shadow economy in the world after Azerbaijan and Nigeria.

The first sentence of the Fitch report reads: “Ukraine’s ratings reflect weak external liquidity, a high public debt burden and structural weaknesses, in terms of a weak banking sector, institutional constraints and geopolitical and political risks.”

This is the only bit of information that Ukraina.ru took from the Fitch outlook, completely ignoring the sentence which follows: “These factors are balanced against improved policy credibility and coherence, the sovereign’s near-term manageable debt repayment profile and a track record of bilateral and multilateral support.”

The best method to refute such misrepresentation is to find and explore the full report.

HOW TO AVOID FALLING INTO THE TRAP OF DATA MANIPULATION

Here’s what you need to pay attention to when reading public opinion polls and other research:

  • Is the methodology described?
  • How are the questions formulated? Sometimes they are devised to manipulate and suggest certain answers.
  • What is the sample of respondents: by age, place of residence, and other characteristics? Is the sample statistically sound?
  • What is the reputation of the researcher?  Is he or she known in the professional community?
  • Who paid for the research? Serious research centers never hide their clients if they publicize the data.
  • Compare and contrast the result of research to other data and findings. If they are strikingly different, the results must be questioned.


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