In our society prominent people and political ideologues are usually physically far removed from us, but can reach us through television, the Internet or other media. This creates asymmetric communication where celebrities can talk to you at any time of the day or night via on-demand videos and audio files, while you hardly have a chance to talk directly to the celebrity and send communications in the other direction. Don’t rely on a gut feeling or rules of thumb and don’t think you know a particular media personality because you watch them all the time. Someone can have the weirdest personality and do massive damage, even though he or she is surrounded by cameras, colleagues and audiences most of the time.
The times when there were only a few big TV stations that acted as the nation’s campfire and where well-known faces hosted various programs, have given way to a new era in which everyone can start their own Internet TV channel with a webcam for 20€ and go hunting for audiences. Even amateur videos without a significant budget, when they meet a certain taste, can be viewed millions of times on the net. These opportunities naturally attract highly dangerous people who want to make profitable use of their narcissistic and psychopathic qualities. Even if you don’t give much attention to YouTube personalities, it may be that your partner or a good friend or your child ends up into in the clutches of a snake charmer and gets his head filled with dangerous nonsense.
On YouTube you can learn how to buy drugs anonymously on the Internet in just a few minutes, websites promise anonymous and secure ways to cheat on your partner, radical YouTube mosques are open 24 a day and various political Youtube gurus like to incite their flocks against parents and friends.
Less prominent figures on YouTube can still be contacted on the phone or on Skype, but you can hardly get to more influential figures and they also have more experience in optimizing their on-air persona, hiding embarrassing aspects and taking legal action against critics. People can get entangled with ideological extremism and damage their reputation, loose money, friends, time and sanity. Often intelligent people end up in such traps, so don’t automatically think that this could never happen to you! The diversity of media offerings on the Internet makes it more likely that sooner or later you will come across content that appeals to you strongly.
The trouble is that we can hardly ever talk to such prominent Internet gurus in person to get a direct picture of the situation. Instead, we can only view produced, edited videos that have been optimized and polished by the authors before publishing. Nevertheless, there are many techniques to recognize dangers in time:
- If a prominent character publishes a lot of material, it’s more likely that you’ll come across recordings that seem strange, contradictory or shocking. The more a person stands in front of the camera, the more reckless and negligent they can become and lose track of the elements that form the beautiful facade. There are often videos that the celebrity regrets and wants to erase from the Internet. Find these videos, learn about their history and try to analyze them fairly. Did they just have a bad day? Or do worrisome features really shine through here?
- While impressions can be fleeting in personal conversations, impressions are permanently recorded on video. In a personal conversation, someone can try to take you by surprise and outflank you with fast talking or distractions. Whereas you can pause and think and repeat whenever you’re watching a recorded video. Use these opportunities to search for conspicuities, clues to drug use and alcoholism, contradictions, manipulations and cheap argumentation tricks.
- Search for critical videos, comments, blog posts and newspaper articles about the person and try to see whether the criticism is justified. Find out how the celebrity deals with critics and scandals. Is there a criminal past?
- Always consult real literature and different perspectives and use logic to better understand the message and personality of the Youtuber. You might notice that he or she really has very little knowledge and bluffs a lot. Shady professionals are often experts at always acting as if they were completely in the right. Can you catch the propagandist lying?
- Does he or she pretend to be unfairly persecuted, of the utmost importance and the victim of large-scale conspiracies? Are these views justified or completely exaggerated? Has the person simply put himself and others in unnecessary legal difficulties? Just because someone is in legal trouble doesn’t make him a messiah.
- What is this person’s relationship to money? Unhealthy? How much money does the person actually earn? How? How is the money spent?
- Does the person show a conspicuous and inaccurate pattern of idealization and condemnation of others?
- Does the person exaggerate his own meaning and success excessively? Does the person claim to be chosen by God and prediction?
- Does the person himself practice what he preaches, or does his private life drastically differ from the preached values and standards?
- Does the person claim to be in league with much more powerful circles? This can be either a brazen bluff to make oneself appear important and more attractive, or it can actually mean that the person is working with dangerous circles.
- Is this person making false promises? Is she telling you exactly what you want to hear? Don’t be impressed by slogans and sayings like “I don’t want you to believe me; you should check everything yourself!” Usually these gurus do NOT want to be checked out.
- Does that person ask you to do things that needlessly damage your reputation and can isolate you? Does this person want you to distance yourself from friends and family members?
A media figure not only speaks to his audience, but also seeks dialogue with other (more or less prominent) figures and also with critics or opponents and “the common people”. Here one can pay attention to manipulation techniques and evaluate what’s going on. The following common tricks are especially used by manipulative people in disputes:
- Gaslighting: This technique is named after the play “Gaslight” and describes attacks against the perception and self-confidence of another person. It’s essentially twisting reality. Others are blamed for everything. For example, the manipulator denies facts about his own behavior in the past and claims fictitious connections and facts. If enough gaslighting is done, some victims doubt their own sense of reality and their self-esteem. The manipulator’s mantra is: “You’re just imagining things, you’re no longer clear in the head, it’s never happened etc.”
- Word salad: If the manipulator is caught and cannot invent any of the usual excuses for his behaviour, he tries the “word salad” technique, i.e. quite incomprehensible gibberish and digressive philosophically sounding nonsense and commonplaces, which have little to do with the matter.
- Nonsense: The manipulator uses illogical accusations, distractions and confusion tactics to “defeat” the opponent, in other words to appear more dominant. Instead of talking about the core of the matter, the manipulator attacks all sorts of other aspects.
- Circular reasoning: The manipulator claims to be always right and decent, but does not use any real evidence for this, but uses a web of unproven clues and assertions that support each other.
- Projection: The manipulator accuses other people of being dishonest and malicious, even though is is himself dishonest. A manipulator can also use a few technical terms such as “narcissist” or “psychopath” in a superficial way to attack his opponents.
- Strawman: Instead of responding to your position, the manipulator will distort your position to the extreme to make you look bad and to counter these distorted positions with ease.
- Eternal grumbling and criticizing: Honest criticism is objective and fair, but the criticism of the manipulator is permanent, un-fair and unstoppable. No matter how hard you try, you can’t do anything right in the view of the manipulator.
- Change of topic: In a single sentence the manipulator can change the topic that is unpleasant for him. If the opponent sticks to the original topic, the manipulator will either try another change of theme, or use a different tactic.
- Threats: These can take various forms, including indirect ones. If you do not willingly accept the message of the manipulator, a number of extremely unpleasant consequences will be listed. The manipulator injured in his sensitive ego can also generally threaten his critics that one day, when the balance of power changes, the critics will be “held accountable” or marginalized.
- Testing limits: Manipulators test how far they can go with other people and stick to these vulnerable points. Again and again they play the nice guy after vicious attacks and flatter and reward, in order to lure the victims in again and string them along
- A manipulator can create stress at any time, in order to keep his victim constantly under stress and unbalanced. No matter it it’s your birthday or Christmas; the manipulator knows no inhibitions to get you off balance.
Normal people also use such techniques now and then, but if you notice that this sort of inflated crazy drama is a person’s standard repertoire, then draw the necessary consequences. It is a wasted effort to persuade such a person to understand things and it is usually unnecessary and counterproductive to justify oneself constantly against unfair attacks. If “friends” or partners show this behavior to a great extent, it is time to look elsewhere. The “good old days” will not return.
Perhaps such an amateur assessment is not 100% accurate and the other person may only have strong narcissistic traits instead of a fully developed personality disorder. But why take an unnecessary risk when there are enough other people out there who are more trustworthy?