How to Spot Spin Doctoring Online

Is the information too good to be true? A lot of opinions and opinion-clothed-as-fact on the internet is just that and can even be damaging if acted on. Spin doctoring involves creative telling of facts and events to align with the cause, belief, issue, etc., that the person wishes to promote. Here is how to spot online spin doctoring.


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    Understand what spin doctoring can involve. Spin doctoring isn't necessarily undertaken with bad intent or competitiveness. Spin doctoring can also occur where a person believes in something uncritically and promotes it with evangelical fervor, even if they don't have all the facts right or present their case coherently; in such case, passion is driving the "spin". In fact, it's often a case of "don't let the facts get in the way" of the online discussion or rant.
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    Learn some of the signs of online spin doctoring. These are bound to evolve over time in terms of complexity and approach but the basics can include:
    • Highly emotive pleas, clearly angry responses, yelling (CAPITALS), frightened insistence (such as with health scares), and use of lots of exclamation marks (!!!!!) as if the point won't be made without them.
    • Repeated assertions of the same "facts" without giving any back up or references to where they come from.
    • Increased incoherency. This can be either extremely fine but bamboozling language (think Enron's financial reports), or it can be statements or discussions that are so wound up in knots that they've forgotten what the original assumptions and points were.
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    Watch out for discussions, articles, and replies that assume unproven facts. Look for references. Then check that those references are trusted references or bogus ones. If there are none, ask for them.
    • Cause and effect often get mixed up when you read online testimonials, especially in an area like health. For example, a person might say that their sibling ate oranges daily, died of cancer, and therefore oranges cause cancer. Be really careful when reading this kind of flippant talk.
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    Watch for high emotions. When somebody is feeling very excited, upset, or determined to convince others, their emotional state might be reflected in the presentation of their argument or discussion. For example, you may see them writing a lot in capitals, using ample exclamation marks, and using language that suggests conspiracy or huge leaps of the imagination. In this case, you'll definitely want all the facts before trusting what is being said.
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    Watch for alarmist language. If the author of a document, forum post, or other online written explanation wants to drum up awareness through fear or alarm, the language will often come across as more pompous and "expert-sounding" than needed. For example, in the field of health, suddenly everyday language is peppered with scientific names for food, drugs, health reactions, etc. to make it all seem so much more alarming.
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    Beware the infection. Bad news is contagious, and online it spreads like wildfire because most times, it's a titillating read. Stopping to work out whether or not it's accurate, in context, or even true, would spoil the fun. But when it comes to spin that could potentially harm or upset you, it's not about fun. It's about getting to the real facts and not being overwhelmed or frightened by mistaken or purposefully filtered information.
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    Assess the spin. If you think it reads like spin, you're probably onto something. Go with your instinct and do some more exploring and probing before joining in.
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    Do your own research. If you really want to know the veracity and the source material is scant in the original commentary, doing your own research will help you to cut through the spin. You can research online using reputable websites, visit the library and ask for the help of a librarian, research in books, or even phone up someone who has some expertise in the field and ask them questions.
    • If you research online, look for such sites as government agencies, libraries, peer-reviewed journals, academic sites, etc. From these sites, you can find links that they consider to be reputable and this will broaden your search. Just take care that the more you wander from the reputable source, the easier it is to wander back into unverifiable sources.


  • Common problems with many online scare approaches to issues such as health, education, parenting, safety, etc., relates to use of outdated information, misquotes, misunderstandings, and an openness to conspiracy.
  • Sometimes people have personal experiences that they really and truly believe are a kind of revelation that they must share with the world. The fervor accompanying this can be influential but it still does not prevent the need to research the facts and to realize that this person's experience is very personal to them, and one-size-revelations do not fit all.


  • Government agencies do not mean parties forming government. Political party websites should be read objectively and all facts stated as accurate verified independently.
  • Care should be taken with think tank information. Understand the motives behind the information provided and realize that much of it is just opinion, not fact, nor necessarily well-formed opinion.

Things You'll Need

  • Internet access
  • Reliable websites
  • Library
  • Books
  • Expertise

Article Info

Categories: Research and Review | Social Activism