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How Trump Manipulates the Migration Debate

The Use and Abuse of Extra-Factual Information

Trump at a dinner in honor of the military in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, July 2014. Leah Millis / Reuters

Psychological manipulation is an influence technique designed to change the behavior or beliefs of its target audiences through distraction, deception, and misrepresentation. One strikingly effective variant relies on the strategic deployment and exploitation of rumors, conspiracy theories, fake news, and other forms of what I call “extra-factual information”—a term that encompasses not only false or misleading information but also unverified statements and other sources of nonfactual knowledge, such as literature and “common sense”—in order to fan fears that have little or no basis in objective reality but ring viscerally true to target audiences.

U.S. President Donald Trump has shown himself to be a master practitioner of such manipulation, especially when it comes to the subject of immigration and refugee policy. Trump has systematically used distraction and the repetition of misleading information to conflate the real challenges of migration policy with false (albeit psychologically satisfying) ones, allowing him

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