Unethical communications and how to start a conspiracy theory

Over the years I have worked alongside some of New Zealand’s top advertising and communications people. Its fascinating to see these people at work.

Many of us know the tricks that advertisers and marketers use to sell products and services and there is so much more that we don’t know, but the real magicians are the communication people. These people play the advertisers, the marketers and the media with great stealth.

I remember a day when I had been listening to a radio report and then shortly after watched a report on the same subject on the TV.

Two people, leaders in the same organisation, we will call them 1 and 2, were interviewed. 1 on the radio and 2 on TV.

They told the same story about an incident which we will call event ‘A’. Protagonist 1 linked event A to a second event ‘B’, that had happened within 11 months of event A.

Protagonist 2 also linked both events but with a subtle difference. The second event had apparently happened within 5 months (not 11 months) of event A, so we will call this event ‘C’.

Event A was an interaction between 2 people who we will call X and Y. Event B or C happened between person Y and a third person, person Z.

So here is what was going on, and this would all have been hatched by a communication expert.

1 and 2 were trying to discredit X. The best way to do this is to raise some doubt as to the character and honesty of X.

The techniques used here are, by the way, the same techniques used to start a conspiracy theory.

The key is the distance between 2 objects in time, space and degree of separation.

To start a conspiracy theory you need to link 2 facts. The facts must be close enough to infer a plausible link exists between them, but far enough apart to allow for some degree of doubt and that requires the observer to fill in the gap in the knowledge themselves.

For instance the distance in time between event A and C is 11 months. Any further apart than that and the link between the two events is too tenuous. It is known that 5 to 11 months is the ideal amount of time for something that is current. (The further you go back into history, the greater that distance can be.) If two current events happen less than 4 months apart, there is still enough current memory around to definitively confirm or deny a link between them, reducing the opportunity to create doubt. Generally, a year is too great a time past, to easily link two events.

Protagonist 1 and 2 could both have been right in this instance as ‘within 5 months’ falls ‘within 11 months’. But there are six months between the two and six months is an ideal distance in time for doubt to be generated. The cunning thing is that because the protagonists were trying to caste dispersion on the character of person X, any sense of doubt created in the observer’s mind is subconsciously linked to the actions of X and associates Y and Z.

It is no coincidence that protagonists 1 and 2 told slightly different versions of the story.

‘Degree of separation’- because Y is linked to both X and Z it can be inferred that Y and Z also have a relationship, but the presence of Y creates enough distance between X and Z to generate doubt and allow the observer to fill in the gaps about the nature of that relationship. In this instance the protagonists wanted the observer to conclude that X was directing Z.

‘Distance is space’ takes on a new meaning today. It used to be that two people had to be within a certain distance of each other to be ‘linked’ and a certain distance apart to create doubt. The internet and email etc has changed this somewhat but this phenomena can still be used. X, Y and Z are no longer bound by the limitations of physical space. Close enough to be linked but not so close that there is no room for doubt. They can all physically be in different corners of the world but email correspondence will link them. In this case Y emailed Z and ‘name dropped’ X into the conversation, implying correspondence between X and Z where absolutely no proof of this ever happening exists. But the protagonists never said that there was.

You can now begin to understand how doubt is caste upon a person.

There is yet another known phenomenon at work here. No two people ever have exactly the same recollection of a shared experience. But if two people are asked to corroborate a story they are likely to be able to compromise their recollections of the event to such a degree that they will come up with a single recollection that they can agree on.

This is however, virtually impossible when three people are involved. Which is why there is always an X, Y and a Z. When more than two people are required corroborate a story there will always be at least two versions of the same events. As we know, two versions of the same story creates doubt.

As it turned out – events B and C were in fact the same event. There was another subtle difference in the stories that persons 1 and 2 told. When I went over both interviews again I realised that their accounts of event A were also slightly different. Event A was in fact two separate but very similar events that had happened 6 months apart. Revealing that fact would have helped remove doubt from the mind of the observer, not create it. An inconvenient truth.

In all of this no one actually told a lie and no one made any direct, damaging accusations about another person. They didn’t have to, all they had to do was create some doubt and let the observer fill in the gaps.

The implied accusation: Person X inappropriately, immorally and possibly illegal directed person Z to undertake an action from which Z and his ‘associate’ Y made personal financial gain and that protected X from the possibility of prosecution.

But no one would actually dare say that now would they?

To me, such deliberate manipulation of fact and time in order to discredit a person or other organisation is wrong and deliberately deceitful. It is used all of the time by organisations, lobbyists, special interest groups, politicians, in business and by the media. It is happening all around us, it is happening to us and it is unethical.


All of the necessary elements are in place. To kick this off as a conspiracy theory all that is now needed is a suggestion that someone is withholding information from the observer. Conspiracy theorists are archivists, the collectors and holders of all knowledge that is important to society. They see this as their ‘role’. Knowing that someone is withholding information from them is like catnip to a cat. This is why protagonists 1 and 2 asserted that it was time for X to explain to us what was really going on.


One thought on “Unethical communications and how to start a conspiracy theory

  1. I agree this happens all the time, but we as the observers buy into it, which is why they keep doing this.If we dont buy into this, it would stop.


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