Negative Ads Survival Guide

About those ads: Stop! Look! Don’t go crazy!

You can’t stop political attack ads from invading your personal space. Millionaires and billionaires have made sure of that with court decisions and friends in Congress.

But you can render them harmless – even make them useful.

Here are a few steps to help you fight back:

  1. Political advertisers know when and how you’re vulnerable. When exposed to an attack ad, shut off your politics and become keenly aware of the moment. What day is it? Time? What are you doing? Is this a station, show, or website that attracts specific incomes, or gender, or race, or age?
  2. Dissect the production techniques first. Identify techniques likely to overcome logic with emotion. Ads tend to build one distortion on top of another to manipulate the mind into an incorrect thought. Listen to the sounds, the tone of voice, look at the lighting, for images that repulse, and compare unpatriotic vs patriotic symbolism.
  3. Fact check. Watch the ad again, noting key phrases or claims. Check reliable sources. See below for details.
  4. Share your thoughts. We’ve create a number of spaces online for Ohio voters to discuss and analyze these ads. Join the conversation on Facebook or by using the #YourVoteOhio on Twitter and Instagram. These pages are maintained by the Jefferson Center, a non-partisan civic engagement group working with The Ohio Media Project.

Who came up with the four steps?

They are the result of research regarding bullying and domestic violence, interviews with political advertising experts, and conversations with civic engagement organizations.

Here’s how to fact-check the message:

  1. Ask who is responsible for the ad. If it’s a candidate, the ad will say so. If it’s a super PAC, find help on such sites as:
  2. When examining substance, Travis Ridout of the Wesleyan Media Project explains: “If we peel back the scary images, the scary music, all of those elements of the ad that are designed to make you feel a particular way, what is the actual message in that ad? Is there any message beyond, ‘You should be scared of this candidate’?” Analyze more ads at the Political Ad Archive.
  3. Find good help.
    • from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Public Policy (includes analysis of debates and other speeches as well)
    • from University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Public Policy.
  4. As an Ohioan, you are a prime target. Detailed information is gathered about you by people hoping to influence your vote and gain power. News media can’t track the micro-targeting on computers or in your mailbox. So…
  5. When you’ve been targeted, take action: Take a photo, video, or screen shot of a negative internet ad or mailer and email it to The ads will be catalogued and analyzed by The Ohio Media Project, the Bliss Institute at the University of Akron, and the Jefferson Center.

Fact-checking resources from M.L. Schultze, 89.7 WKSU-FM

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