The Outrage Trap: Stay Informed, Stay Empowered

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    Opinion Piece by Jonathan Bernstein

    What do these three claims have in common?

    • President Obama’s finance team and Nancy Pelosi are recommending a 1% transaction tax on all financial transactions.
    • Mitt Romney said, “Of course, I’ll win, I’m the white guy.”
    • Target Corporation does not contribute to veterans’ causes and provides corporate grants only for gay and lesbian causes.

    They are all examples of what I’m calling an “Outrage Trap,” which I define as follows:

    Outrage Trap: A communication containing false information designed to elicit outrage that furthers the purposes of the trap setter.

    You see them in your email and online every day, and sometimes you pass them on to your friends without fact-checking at a site such as because the messages really push your buttons. They elicit outrage, as they’re designed to do, and further the cause of whatever political or activist group (or members thereof) from which the dishonest communication originated.

    This devious form of crisis communications – designed to create a crisis for the target of the message – has been enhanced by the speed of the Internet rumor mill. The best way to quash any rumor is to get the facts out quickly. Unfortunately, within an hour or less. thousands or even millions of people online have already seen inaccurate and unchallenged information.

    The best solution, for all of us as communication consumers, is to remember that the buck stops with the person in the mirror. Don’t be a dupe. Don’t automatically believe what you learn from a single social or traditional media source. Fact-checking is everyone’s responsibility.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management