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According to Google, to gaslight someone is to manipulate them “by psychological means into doubting their own sanity.” Here are some common example of gaslighting in abusive relationships.
- The abuser rewrites history to suit their narrative. They put words into other’s mouths, project their intent/biases onto others, and make themselves the heroes or victims. “You are the one who lied to your mother and stole money from her”; when the abuse target had always had a loving trusting relationship with their mother.
- The abuser distorts reality. They assert falsehoods repeatedly until they become “true.” They minimise their behaviours and transgressions. They lie easily, even when the truth is easily verified. “That wasn’t me at the pub, you are completely mistaken”; when the abuse target had personally actually seen the abuser at the pub.
- The abuser blames others. When something goes wrong, or when they are caught doing something wrong, they twist the facts and fabricate falsehoods to turn the blame onto others. “You are the one who made me hit you, you should have know how I’d respond”; when the abuse target is obviously the abuse target.
- The abuser manipulates others into joining in the abuse. When other parties join in with the above behaviours, the impact on the target of the abuse is magnified. “You are hopeless and useless, everyone agrees with me”; when everyone has been fed lies about the abuse target.
These behaviours are so absurd and extreme that, over time, the abuse target begins to doubt their own sanity. Even as they are getting even more caught up in the abuser’s manipulations.
In recent times, I have noticed some global brands engaging in these behaviours, in their marketing and PR responses to faulty products. You may be familiar with the actions listed below:
- Minimising with falsehoods: “This only affects a very small tiny miniscule percentage of our customers”; when the problem is clearly more widespread according to support fora and social media.
- Redefining concepts/distorting reality: “This is not a problem, but a feature.” “We implemented this for your benefit.” That the feature was un-asked for and contributes to early obsolescence are irrelevant.
- Playing semantic games: “Our design is not performance throttling. We are just running everything slower.”
- Victim-blaming: “You are using it wrong.” You don’t know how to use it.
- Denying and shifting responsibility: “We have rectified the problem. Please consult your user documentation.” The implication here is that you are still somehow doing it wrong or misrepresenting the problem.
- Distracting and obfuscating: Continually saying there is no problem and selling the faulty product while quietly fixing the problem for the next iteration. Or changing part numbers to disguise the fact that the new part is the same.
Gaslight marketing sets a precedent for the fans of the brand. These true believers are only too happy to collude with the gaslighting as their identity and wellbeing are inextricably tied into the brand’s wellbeing. Every criticism of the brand, no matter how reasonable or warranted, is perceived as direct personal attacks. Fans can engage in anti-social behaviours especially on social media and support fora:
- Dismissing: “I haven’t encountered this problem, I have never had a problem with this brand, therefore it must be you who is wrong.”
- Projecting ill intent: “You are making the problem up because you are a troll paid for by a competitor.”
- Ad hominem attacks: “You are an [insert any number of personal attacks.]”
- No true Scotsman fallacy: “You are never a true believer/fan. A true believer/fan will never blaspheme like this.”
- Projecting a character flaw: “You are only angry because you could not afford this brand.”
- Strawman attacks: “The brand is not to blame. It is 100% the fault of a supplier.” Even when the part supplied by the accused supplier is unrelated to the fault.
Gaslighting is the ultimate break in authenticity. It turns genuine customer relationship building into a creepy manipulative and abusive engagement. It is a destructive behaviour in all interpersonal relationships.
Brands who gaslight their customers are being disrespectful and abusive. We should call out and avoid supporting brands that engage in this practice.