Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and President Donald Trump
Campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and President Donald Trump

Alternative facts' website redirects people to psychology article about emotional abuse and manipulation

Behaviours exhibited by gas lighters include 'telling blatant lies' and branding everybody else a liar

Olivia Blair
Tuesday 31 January 2017 15:33
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A website address which takes on one of the now infamous terms used by Donald Trump’s close advisor Kellyanne Conway to defend unfounded accusations thrown by the administration now re-directs to an article about abusive behaviour.

“Alternative facts” was used by Conway to defend press secretary Sean Spicer after he attacked the media over their reporting of the crowd size at the inauguration. Conway said Spicer presented “alternative facts” when he accused the media of lying about how small the crowd was and actually claiming it was “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration” – despite photographic evidence and public transport figures.

Alternativefacts.com now exists as a website domain however the page re-directs to a Psychology Today article on ‘gas lighting’.

‘Gas lighting’ is used to describe a form of emotional abuse where a person gradually manipulates another to gain control. Taking its name from the 1938 film about an abusive husband, it can involve the abuser pretending to misunderstand the victim or question how they remember events until the person gets confused, vulnerable and second guesses themselves.

Psychology Today describes it as a “tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality” and says it is a “common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists and cult leaders”.

So why would someone re-direct a url with a phrase now so closely associated with the Trump administration to this website?

The notion was raised in a think-piece for Teen Vogue in December which was titled: “Donald Trump is gaslighting America”.

In the viral article, writer Lauren Duca wrote: “To gas light is to psychologically manipulate a person to the point where they question their own sanity, and that’s precisely what Trump is doing to this country. He gained traction in the election by swearing off the lies of politicians, while constantly contradicting himself, often without bothering to conceal the conflicts within his own sound bites. He lied to us over and over again, then took all accusations of his falsehoods and spun them into evidence of bias.”

The redirected page suggests some signs of behaviour accordingly associated with gas lighters:

  • "They tell blatant lies" – President Trump has been repeatedly accused of lying throughout both his campaign and into his presidency. Some of which have seemed very blatant indeed – such as the photographic evidence of the size of his inauguration crowd which spurned the phrase.
  • "They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof" – Mr Trump famously denied he said he supported the Iraq war when there is audio evidence of him telling Howard Stern that he did in 2002.
  • "They tell you everyone else is a liar" – Mr Trump has repeatedly accused the "dishonest" media of lying and biased reporting over their coverage of him. 

Other traits include gas lighters “knowing confusion weakens people”, “trying to align people against you”, “throwing in positive reinforcement to confuse you” and “wearing you down over time”.

Some people on Twitter made the comparison as soon as Conway coined the term:

Some psychologists have also weighed in with Bryant Welch telling NBC last week the President’s behaviour of making claims which have been so easily disproved is a classic case of gas lighting.

“The very state of confusion they are creating is a political weapon in and of itself. If you make people confused, they are vulnerable […] You come in and undercut their trust in the established sources of information. It tells them to go ahead and hate this person who is delivering bad news. Then you begin to substitute your own news, your own version of reality.

“If Donald Trump can undercut America’s trust in all media, he then starts to own them and can start to literally implant his own version of reality.”

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