What is media gaslighting?

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What is media gaslighting?

Have you ever found yourself confused by guidance from a newspaper? Listened to a politician continuously deny a fact when science says otherwise? Read a news story with scary health facts that don’t add up elsewhere?

This type of reporting actually has a name: media gaslighting. Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a person’s mind, making them question their own reality, memory, or beliefs. A gaslighter aims to gain control over another person, group, or nation by trying to convince them they’re wrong, reinforcing their preferred narrative by repetition, regardless of fact.

“The term is derived from the play Gaslight (1938) which features a husband’s systematic psychological manipulation of his wife,” says Nikki Emerton, a life coach and hypnotherapist. “This eventually leads to her questioning her own sanity.”

So how does this translate to the media? “In media and societal terms, ‘gaslighting’ may be seen as propaganda, indoctrination, or mass brainwashing. Telling people what to think to fit in. Creating a ‘gang culture’ so that if you want to ‘fit in’ and be part of the gang, you must think a certain way, no matter how inaccurate it is,” Nikki explains.

It isn’t just about spreading misinformation, but extends to the deliberate act of attempting to rewrite the narrative to control public opinion, and refusing to acknowledge information that tarnishes said narrative.

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Classic examples of media gaslighting include the portrayal of vulnerable women. When Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and Lindsay Lohan came into the limelight, social media didn’t exist, they didn’t get to choose how they wanted to present to the world. The paparazzi made the choice for them, and the media ran with that persona.

For Britney, that persona involved a sexualised childhood, vilification when she embraced that sexualisation, and her public mental health deterioration. Lindsay was heralded as a child star before being blacklisted by Hollywood, as we witnessed her multiple mugshots being bandied around. In other words, their only narrative was one of damaged goods.

Doctors and scientists are often also at the mercy of media gaslighting when they offer an alternative opinion or fact that doesn’t fit with mainstream media. They’re vilified, dismissed as ‘radical’, and even their level of stability comes into question.

So with never-ending scope to distribute ‘fake news’, how do you sort fact from fiction?

How to spot gaslighting in the media

Nikki shares five ways you can identify when the media is using gaslighting techniques to tell the desired narrative…

1. You can’t cross-reference the facts

Often, you may hear a report and go online to source further information. If you find it is difficult to attain additional or unbiased facts about it, gaslighting tactics could be at play.

2. Information is vague, unclear, or contradictory

The facts you’ve read often don’t add up, leaving you questioning what the actual message is and, importantly, what the desired outcome of the piece was. How did you expect to feel upon reading the headline vs how you feel now? Often it’s confused, and even fearful.

3. Information is altered

Have you ever read a story, gone back to show a friend a few days later, and the information is not as you remember? Did you question if you had read it correctly? With media gaslighting, information is changed and altered as time goes by without factual evidence to support it, or signposts to note the changes.

4. A significant bias is present

What is reported is published for positive gains biased towards an individual, group, or organisation, and not the bigger picture. This is often seen in politics, notably around elections.

5. You’re urged to support the story on social media

When you read a story on social media, are you instantly bombarded with messages asking you to ‘show your support’ by sharing the piece? Media gaslighting often calls on readers to advocate for their narratives; asking you to share their story suggesting you have subscribed to an official recommendation, that may or may not be true.

Whether you’re privy to the gossip columns or it’s strictly business only, we hope these tips will put media gaslighting on your radar, and support you to question the unquestionable.


To connect with a life coach, like Nikki, who can help you navigate manipulation, visit lifecoach-directory.org.uk

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