Philosodata: Image Distortion Methods

NOTE: We often don’t know how to get power and often fear losing it. So, we do weird things to lie about it, usually to make ourselves look more powerful. While this list isn’t comprehensive, it gives an indicator of the types of things worth watching out for in other people and groups.

Almost everything in this list works to serve a few main themes:

  1. Redirect blame or minimize it.
  2. Make something look good (usually virtuous) or at least better by comparison to something else.
  3. Separate ideas that shouldn’t be separated, usually to distance feelings from the thing.
  4. Combine ideas that shouldn’t be combined, typically to make people feel more strongly about it.

Experts at distorting image are often good at predicting what will happen, and often prematurely do it before adverse consequences happen.




  • Invalidate premises to reposition or open up the possibilities for reasoning.
  • Add new premises that change the story, often intensifying it.
  • Provide unusual or irrational conclusions that imply new premises that don’t exist.
  • Justify the moral basis of something by trusting that a decision is inherently good from what it might cause.
  • Make someone doubt and question understanding, perceptions, and reasoning they know to be true (“gas-lighting”).
  • Justify the basis of something by virtue of someone’s authority.
  • Express a secondary motive as the primary purpose.


Word Choice – Replacement

  • Specialized and trade-specific jargon sound more educated, signal group membership, or hide how things feel.
  • A word that feels stronger indicates more power or provokes more fear (e.g., “weapon of war” instead of “gun”).
  • A word that feels weaker indicates less power and often implies victimhood.
  • Words can be swapped to build associations to other words (e.g., “attacked” versus “defended”).
  • Acronyms make something look more formally established (e.g., “LGBT” instead of “homosexual”, most military acronyms).
  • Frequently call things by what they aren’t until it’s habituated into everyone’s memory.
  • Change a verb or conjunction to make something a lie (e.g., “walked in the room” vs “walked near the room”).
  • Swapping out a word on a familiar saying.

Word Choice – Additions

  • Include adjectives to modify the present image of something (e.g., “The People’s Democratic Republic of North Korea”).
  • Use the word “free” to imply an obvious decision, but hiding other costs.
  • Borrow a different word that evokes a feeling formerly unrelated to the value, which can completely rearrange the story.


  • Lie about quantities, especially small lies that could be mistaken as simply accidental.
  • Hide trailing zeros with “K” or “M” to make a number seem larger or smaller, especially by comparison to other numbers.
  • Invert percentages to make the numbers feel higher or lower (e.g., 3% chance of death vs 97% chance of living).
  • Use algorithms (i.e., a set of number-based conditional rules) to hide bias, typically with the claim that the algorithm is neutral.

Word Placement

  • Separate two words in a sentence to create emotional distance (“The senator, in many ways, was a just man, but he was caught having murdered his wife.”)
  • Stick two words in a sentence closer together (“The officer’s murder case was solved today in the arrest of a local clerk.”).
  • Frequently place a word next to another word to completely change its implication (e.g., “pompous” was once a positive implication, but now implies “pompous ass”).

Sentence Choice

  • Use the passive voice to remove the subject of the sentence from the idea (“The murder had been done by him”).
  • Use long sentences, extended oration, and elaborate sentences to give ideas emotional distance.


Comparing Numbers/Ideas

  • State an arbitrary number or idea that will seem much less favorable than the one they want to influence people toward.
  • Use extremely specific words or numbers to imply something was particularly calculated.
  • Compare numbers that don’t really matter to each other, especially via statistics.
  • Using technology, usually with computers, to imply that something has a factual basis.
  • Make a statement that seems logical, but isn’t (e.g., “Feeding someone means they won’t want to work.”).
  • Repeating something incessantly until it seems more prevalent than something else.

Comparing Values

Feelings Comparison

  • Use social proof with anecdotes of others’ experiences.
  • Signal wealth or social status to others with a behavior or expensive trinket/clothing.
  • Counter-signal as a high-status person with a lower-class behavior or trinket/clothing to evoke relative poverty or sincerity.
  • Use a loosely related metaphor or comparative story to explain the results of something.
  • Attach two events as if they were connected, but only connect through a shared feeling.
  • Offering something that’s awful to then offer something that appears to be a compromise (door-in-the-face technique).

Comparing with the Unknown

  • Allude to something as particularly exclusive, rare, unique, special, or unheard of.
  • Give an implication that there are very few of something left to force a belief in scarcity, especially regarding trends.



  • Redirect the discussion away from the central issue.
  • Redirect a conflict to a vaguely related one.
  • Rapidly shift conversation or tone to confuse or disorient someone, often to discover a secret.
  • Focus more on qualities than on quantities to evoke more feelings.
  • Focus more on quantities than on qualities to dismiss a matter.

Implying about Self

  • Speak vaguely or avoid saying certain things so people will imagine sophistication, power, or expertise.
  • Repeat virtues others may believe (“virtue signaling”) to indicate loyalty.
  • Feign ignorance to elicit pity or catch a botched restatement.
  • Feign repentance to mend broken trust.
  • Make a creation appear rushed or improvised when it was well-rehearsed, staged, or meticulously craft, which will inspire the audience to give more grace to it.
  • State that a previously discussed topic (e.g., a web forum) answers a topic that it doesn’t.

Implying with Others

  • Allude vaguely to what “experts” say or believe.
  • State what a non-present person would have thought on an issue, though it’s often impossible to precisely know.
  • Concede to a personal failing to provoke someone else to admit their failings.
  • Use language associated to a specific culture to imply association with it.


  • Ask a yes/no question with many elements, then demand the person answer yes or no.
  • Ask two pseudo-related ideas within the same question.
  • Push intense feelings as if they’re valid logic, often controlling the conversation with shame.
  • Push the matter as urgent when it’s not to force a decision without critically thinking it through first.
  • Use an unusual time or adverse weather conditions to make people uncomfortable.
  • Misstate what someone said to make it sound worse, usually to provoke defensiveness.
  • Force a “with or against me” stance on someone.
  • Shifting the “burden of proof” to something that’s more reasonable and established.


  • Use imagery for people to imagine something enough that they feel a story around the stated thing.
  • Choose specific phrases that draw associated feelings to the thing.
  • Use humor to hide a message.


  • Blame technology or its power for decisions (e.g., guns, computers).
  • Redirect an idea by using the implications from specific patterns of words.
  • Imply someone’s guilt, but without saying anything that would legally indicate the implication.
  • Claim something against someone that’s difficult to disprove.
  • Misquote, then attack a statement (“straw man”).


First Impressions

  • Prominently display symbols that evoke status or discredit others’ status.
  • Pay for advertising to imply a larger reputation than reality.
  • Purchase and display possessions to appear larger, more important, or to scare others.
  • Use possessions flippantly as if they had no value to its owner.
  • Gain a formal title or role that yields no additional power.
  • Imply weakness to appear humble.
  • Gain popularity with young people who are poor judges of quality.
  • Use any body language or optical illusions with clothing or environment to appear larger or stronger.
  • Use a good-looking messenger with a bad message, or vice versa.
  • Appear trustworthy to make others trust.

Tone of Voice/Context

  • Express more confidence than what they think to convince others of power or certainty.
  • Express less confidence than what they think to appear more open-minded.
  • Speak condescendingly or rudely to imply that the person doesn’t matter by comparison to them.
  • Laugh or eat to express oral dominance.


  • Call another group by a label that only fits a few outliers of the group.
  • Call an entire group evil instead of merely their beliefs or a few specific people in that group.
  • Use existing reputation to hide laziness or incompetence.
  • Imply that their thing is the new trend, which makes others imagine they’ll miss out on it.
  • Imply there are only a few possible options, even when there are more.
  • A large group using independent local individuals to imply a smaller group.


  • Condemn a group’s leadership that they haven’t fixed a completely unfixable thing.
  • Blame an opponent or a common enemy for public failures.
  • Blame a larger group to appear as a victim or more moral.
  • Shame anyone who rejects their bias.
  • Imply their opponent is the laggard of a trend.


Public Image

  • Lie about the historical legacy of the organization.
  • Label an organization as something unrelated to its purpose (e.g., Southern Poverty Law Center, Black Lives Matter).
  • Use authoritative-sounding labels (e.g., “association”, “endowment”, “coalition”, “opportunity fund”)
  • Establish traditions that imply stories about the organization.
  • Donating to other organizations that serve the public good.


  • Blame a smaller outside group to make them appear incompetent.
  • Blame a low-ranking member, then eject them from the group as publicly as possible.
  • Blame the predecessor of the organization, especially if they had any differences of opinion.


  • Establish a test to prove group status that requires specific information only attainable by the leadership.
  • Separate members’ roles along lines that make very little sense.
  • Bestowing titles to avoid bestowing legitimate power.
  • Physically separate members’ experiences from their decisions to reduce emotional involvement (e.g., bank cards, credit cards, preferred player cards in casinos).
  • Create a reward system with complex rules that make the game look easy to hack (e.g., credit card points, shopper loyalty cards, social score).
  • Use a numerical system without a conventional base-10 basis (e.g., school grades, credit card scores).
  • Make a decision “opt-in” or “opt-out” to imply the rest of the group is doing something automatically or set apart people who weren’t paying attention.

Multi-Organization – Hiding

  • Use third parties, middlemen, and outside contractors who can be held solely responsible if caught, especially about illegal things.
  • Create separate images for various created things in the same organization (e.g., marketing brands).
  • Making another organization that holds assets, which can often have legal benefits along with image.

Multi-Organization – Crisis

  • Escalate fear from a crisis to direct everyone’s purposes.
  • Manufacture a crisis by destroying things or giving power to a bad system (“false flag operation”).
  • Direct anger and fear by declaring war on another group.

Multi-Organization – Referencing

  • Cite another organization that cited them.
  • Create a separate organization to authorize, review, or approve things, then have them authorize their mother organization (e.g., committees, bureaus).
  • Use mass media to advertise a bias as if it were a fact.
  • Have another organization publish something, then cite it.
  • Create multiple organizations that do the same thing to make something appear to be a trend.
  • Make creations that magnify the importance of a first creation, often drawing on nostalgic memories and vague feelings.
  • A pump-and-dump/Ponzi scheme:
    1. Make lots of hype about something to inflate its value.
    2. Get lots of people interested in that thing where they invest tons of resources (usually money).
    3. Repeat as long as desired (without getting caught).
    4. Before anyone finds out, swap out the value of the hyped thing for something of actual value (though not for a Ponzi scheme).
    5. Disappear before anyone finds out.


  • Change the sample sizes of different sources, or use particularly small samples.
  • Gather data from intentionally biased sources.
  • Group the data into uneven or misleading categories.
  • On a map or chart, diagram differently-sized areas with a similar convention of coloring or numbering.
  • Use color grades that imply dramatic difference in statistically similar sets (e.g., green for <700 people, orange for 700-800, red for >800).
  • On charts, use a bottom range different from zero.