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Fake News, Fallacies, and Mobbing

©2017 Gail Pursell Elliott

Ever have a series of confirming coincidences?  After writing last issue’s article about The Rumor Mill, a subsequent article inspired by the flurry of concerns about fake news in the media seemed like a good idea.  These mirror such goings on in a work environment on a smaller scale but are no less confusing. This morning I received a marketing email from the NY Times.  It said:  “Truth. It comes at a cost.”  Shortly after that, a friend shared a website on logic fallacies.  I will share some with you, simple definitions of terms, many of which have everything to do with mobbing tactics that are regularly used.  It begins with ad hominem.  Perfect.

Ad hominem – Ad hominem attacks can take the form of overtly attacking somebody, or more subtly casting doubt on their character or personal attributes as a way to discredit their argument. The result of an ad hominem attack can be to undermine someone’s case without actually having to engage with it.”

We see a lot of this type of attack in a mobbing situation.  Discrediting through disparaging innuendoes is a regular tool of mobbers. Side comments such as “he’s really dull” or “no wonder she’s single” that have nothing to do with the workplace, or passing remarks about a person’s appearance or clothing feed into this subtle attack strategy.

Tu quoque – Pronounced too-kwo-kwee. Literally translating as ‘you too’ this fallacy is also known as the appeal to hypocrisy. It is commonly employed as an effective red herring because it takes the heat off someone having to defend their argument, and instead shifts the focus back on to the person making the criticism.”

Not only do we see this in mobbing, we see it among arguing children.  “He did this,” “Well, yesterday you did that,” which has nothing to do with the issue at hand. People taking issue wind up being manipulated into defending something completely off topic which may be erroneous as well, unless, of course, a third party intercedes. This tactic also is part of the blame-the-victim strategy known as DARVO: deny, accuse, reverse, victim, offender.

Loaded question – asked a question that had a presumption built into it so that it couldn’t be answered without appearing guilty. Loaded question fallacies are particularly effective at derailing rational debates because of their inflammatory nature – the recipient of the loaded question is compelled to defend themselves and may appear flustered or on the back foot.”

A prime example of this fallacy is the classic Groucho Marx, “Have you stopped beating your wife? Answer yes or no.”

Burden of proof –   The burden of proof lies with someone who is making a claim, and is not upon anyone else to disprove. The inability, or disinclination, to disprove a claim does not render that claim valid, nor give it any credence whatsoever. However it is important to note that we can never be certain of anything, and so we must assign value to any claim based on the available evidence, and to dismiss something on the basis that it hasn’t been proven beyond all doubt is also fallacious reasoning.”

Defending oneself against a lie is a difficult task, as it begins with a falsehood. Addressing it with the truth should work but sometimes does not. It depends on the perception of others and what they choose to believe. Unfortunately, many are too willing to believe a negative inference before investigating further. Perception is as powerful as reality, for perception determines what is real to each person.

Ambiguity – a double meaning or language used to mislead or misrepresent the truth. Politicians are often guilty of using ambiguity to mislead and will later point to how they were technically not outright lying if they come under scrutiny.

The reason that it qualifies as a fallacy is that it is intrinsically misleading.”

Ambiguity can be used to make a person look indecisive or inconsistent. Being forced to make decisions without necessary or complete information is an example. Undercutting a person’s decisions arbitrarily is another.


Becoming aware of some of these fallacies and how they are used can be helpful in getting to the truth of situations that come about as the result of mobbing in an organization.  To quote the Times email “Truth. It comes at a cost.”  The cost to organizations may be in time, manpower, outside consultants, sometimes legal fees and more to get to it.  The truth to targeted individuals is life itself in some cases and careers in others. The truth to coworkers and other staff members becomes freedom from fear, and the power to get back to business to the benefit of everyone, except, of course, to the mobbers.

* * * * *

Gail Pursell Elliott is known as The Dignity and Respect Lady.  She has been recognized as an authority on Mobbing, Bullying and Harassment since 1998 and has been a guest expert on both television and radio programs.  Gail is the author of several books, including School Mobbing and Emotional Abuse: See It, Stop It, Prevent It with Dignity and Respect. Her Food for Thought essays are read by people around the world.  She is co-author of the 1999 book Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace, the definitive book on this subject based on the original research of Dr. Heinz Leymann. She consults with organizations of all kinds, presents at conferences, and provides training on Mobbing and soft skills topics with a focus on people treating each other with Dignity and Respect.  Gail is founder and proprietor of Innovations “Training With a Can-Do Attitude” located in Eastern Iowa.  Her website is www.innovations-training.com



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