Trading Up The Chain Persuasion--Sweet Poison

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Trading Up The Chain Persuasion--Sweet Poison

Poor Tim Pool.

He obviously is not familiar with the term "trading up the chain." But he figured it out on his own and man, is he pissed.

You see, Tim Pool is in love with journalism, holds to the highest journalistic integrity he can muster, but sees a world where he is punished for it. If he were not left-leaning, he would be right out of The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged.

In tracing sources, he does what I do when reading news stories. Watch this video to see the process, but also see Tim go on one hell of a nice rant.

Note, this video is about a political issue that is important now, but soon forgotten. The main point is the process behind how fake news comes into being and spreads so easily.

I have used the term "trading up the chain" several times here on OL. I don't want to rewrite everything, so here are some of my former posts.

It's important to learn this technique if you want to persuade in the culture or fight toxic propaganda.


Here's basically how it works and where it was first formalized as a technique (by Ryan Holiday).

On 2/12/2015 at 11:11 PM, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

See these two articles by Ryan Holiday.

EXCLUSIVE: How This Left-Wing Activist Manipulates the Media to Spread His Message


Trading Up The Chain: Mainstream Media Takes Cues from Blogosphere

I don't want to comment too much since this thread is more about story-making techniques, but here is the basic plan.

First, you have to have a website under a pseudonym, say a blog, that has several articles "proving" a lopsided--preferably scandalous--account of whatever agenda you want to promote. Make it a well-told story and note: all articles and stories have to be high quality because they will be read by a lot of intelligent (albeit careless) people at the start. So even though the material is slanted, is has to look good. You have to attack someone for this to work the best of all.

It doesn't matter which side. This is a process, not an ideology.

Now comes the fun (paraphrasing Ryan Holiday from the first article):

1. Set up an anonymous burner email account. (The false identity has to be different than the pseudonym on the site.)

2. Identify people (celebrities and public figures with a polarized political bent) with large Twitter followings, get their personal email addresses.

3. Email them a link to your site and a two-line email about how this is the best site ever and how “surprised” you are they haven’t tweeted it yet.

4. Trade it up the chain until hitting something big. (Trade up the chain basically means crowing about the increasing exposure and people who have signed on as you keep anonymously submitting it higher and higher within the mainstream media pecking order. The gradual exposure will give it an air of credibility.)

5. Identify a conspiracy-friendly quick-to-condemn person with a large audience who hates the thing you are attacking. Think people like Alex Jones, several MSNBC folks and so on. Say you will reveal your anonymity exclusively on his or her program in exchange for an interview. Since there is already an enormous amount of buzz, you will be accepted.

Then the top mainstream shows start talking about you and your story.

For further details and sleazy media routines (that work), see Ryan Holiday's book: Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator.

Note that truth is not important to the media in this approach. Truth is irrelevant. The story and the process are the important components.


Here's a simpler explanation:

On 3/25/2016 at 6:59 AM, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

I've mentioned the "trading up the chain" publicity process before.

This is where a dubious or controversial story gets placed in the media at low credibility places like blogs, Twitter, local press, etc. Then more credible, but overworked and harried journalists are encouraged to look at it. They see it published, so they comment on it. Then even more credible journalists see those and start commenting. And so on until the news item reaches the top of the mainstream press.

Journalists all quote each other without running down the original source. 


Also, this process can turn a lie into reality over time.

On 4/2/2015 at 6:56 PM, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

The process is easy. You decide what message you want to get out, including, when relevant, where and why. Then you trace a line from a beginning nothing to a mainstream explosion by leveraging weaknesses in the current media as it exists.

First you come up with something outrageous. It doesn't have to be true, in fact it is better if it is not true (because the controversies and corrections give the same media outlets new runs at monetizing the same viewers over and over again). The only important thing is it has to be more or less hot button and it has to inspire high-valence emotions. (With focus on the high-valence emotions that make people not only act, but share.) The most common one is outrage--the real anger kind, not the playful kind. Then you use a three-step process:

1. You plant your first articles (videos, graphics, etc.) in "entry point" blogs and other online publications that do not have very good truth standards. This can even be your own blog, but it's better if you have several places. Once you get something more or less legitimate-looking, you try to draw attention to it from of sites and publications "higher up the chain."

2. These higher sites are generally legacy news sites like Forbes, CNN, etc. Their blog policies are way more lax than their print and broadcast outlets, so you target those bloggers or even set up a blog yourself and go to town, but once something is referenced on one of their blogs, you can brag about it "as seen on Forbes" and so on. You also try to spread things to as many of the people on this level as possible since they are sources for those higher in the chain.

This gives your garbage a veneer of credibility.

3. Then you try to bring this to the attention of even more higher up news and publicity outlets. One popular way is to simply make a list of links where this issue has been discussed and send it to specific famous reporters. You do their research for them and, as harried journalists with massive content quotas constantly looming, they look, massage and publish. More often than not, they don't verify.

The next thing you know you have a national controversy where everyone is yelling at each other. And the sites and news companies love it because it generates audience. Once again, lack of truth is an asset. If something is true and gets resolved quickly, people move on to the next item. Audience-wise, that issue dies.

But if you get to expose liars, follow counter-accusations, dig up dirt on the participants, and so on, you have an audience "hit" you can milk for a nice run of several days (or even weeks). Don't forget that audience means revenue in a direct relationship. No audience, no revenue. Lots of audience, lots of revenue.

One of Holiday's biggest insights was that this process often allows a lie to turn into reality. Like he says in the book, a nothing-burger politician like Palwenty can actually become a presidential candidate. Sexual misconducts, even false accusations, can destroy careers. Holiday even showed a good side to this where he took a charity from nothing to a well-funded Kickstarter campaign. This is a highly effective nothing-to-something machine.


Here's another way of saying trading up the chain. Sorry to be a bit repetitious, but after you read this opening post, you will be a master of the basics. :) 

On 5/19/2017 at 2:48 PM, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

(Trading up the chain is when press people repeat each other because they are squeezed for time to properly source something. It's called going up the chain because an item generally starts at a small place not read by many people and goes up to national coverage as more and more important press folks begin to repeat the same thing.)


So there you have it.

Trading up the chain--sweet poison for journalists to serve to the public. It tastes like legitimate candy, but it poisons people with lies.

As journalists are discovering, it also poisons them. Just look at today's stories about mainstream news layoffs and how many are going out of business. The sweetness for journalists comes from the fact that they don't need a whole lot of effort to manufacture this form of propaganda and still come off as credible. They don't need to do real research, just quote someone else (who is quoting someone else and so on). The poison comes from their stories ultimately being garbage and being debunked over and over and over. They lose their credibility. Then they lose their audience and paying customers.

And for honest journalists like Tim Pool, it drives them crazy.


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And interesting example persuasion-wise is how trading up the chain more-or-less worked at creating a social movement out of whole cloth and branded it with a name Incel

The purpose was to scapegoat young white males in general as part of the social justice political agenda.

But first the name had to be accepted by the general public and lots and lots of journalists had to write about it. Here's how it got kicked off and started spreading.

On 4/29/2018 at 11:43 AM, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

Here's a Heavy article on what they call an "Incel movement," which, in my view, is not a movement at all.

What Is the Incel Movement? 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

This article is a perfect example of the following:

On 4/29/2018 at 10:57 AM, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

We are watching the birth of a bigoted term trying to be jacked up into a meme to make it popular.

Heavy is doing the propaganda heavy lifting here. (This is one of the times Heavy is doing dark side work.) It even provides a backstory for the so-called movement going back to some obscure Canadian lady called Alana in 1993. 

My favorite part is Heavy saying an "Incel activist" (incredibly, another lady and not a man, this time Rebecca Freeman) wants Incel to be considered as a gender.


btw - Here is a direct quote from Freeman from the Heavy article (which is quoting from Quora). She says Incel is:


... not a movement; we have never protested or made any request for rights — or anything like that.

Incel as a movement is a totally engineered propaganda thing. But like all propaganda, there has to be some element of truth for it to fly. For instance, anti-Semites like to talk about Jews with big noses. And many Jews actually do have big noses, but that does not make them a big-nose movement. :) So the bigots use big noses as a further way to identify and isolate Jews as a group. 

In other words, truth-wise, there are a few (very few) individuals who sincerely formally adhere to the premises of what is now being called Incel. Like with big noses, people can look at these few people and see that they exist. But that is a far cry from a movement. Notice that these few are all the media have to point to (in addition to a few relatively unknown social media threads that got deleted on Facebook, Reddit, etc). But after the media gets going on this, they can point to the articles of each other.

In fact, I bet a lot of future press will come from this Heavy article in a perfect "trading up the chain" propaganda push and actually create the impression that this movement exists. (Trading up the chain means a relatively obscure article becomes a source for overworked journalists in other organizations, and their ensuing articles become the source for overworked journalists in more popular media outlets and so on up the chain until the label or idea becomes mainstream. This is totally engineered, though, not spontaneous, and is now being taught in many places as a marketing and propaganda technique. It's based on a book called Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday.)

The fact that people are calling this Incel thing a movement is what happens when people become so divorced from reality and so enslaved by the story in their heads, they are easily manipulated by friendly propaganda into believing just about anything.

Incel has not achieved the status of a full blown social movement, but enough people still talk about it from the residues of the initial splash that it has a veneer of a movement that has run out of steam.

So, in this case, the use of the trading up the chain technique almost worked at turning a lie into reality.


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Here is a perfect not-so-long-ago example of a trading up the chain attempt that got exposed.

The bitch of it is that, even after being exposed, it still worked. It was a major player in kicking off 3 years of the "muh Russians" hoax in the mainstream media, and an expensive futile Mueller investigation.

On 11/28/2016 at 10:51 AM, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

I have been wondering what all the sudden media surge about "fake news" was about--including that idiot site everyone is talking about that says Drudge and some other credible sites are Russian propaganda arms. See the following article at the Intercept by Ben Norton and Glenn Greenwald from two days ago:

Washington Post Disgracefully Promotes a McCarthyite Blacklist From a New, Hidden, and Very Shady Group

The site promoting the blacklist, PropOrNot, obviously is the initial source plant of a "trading up the chain" publicity strategy. From the article:


The group’s list of Russian disinformation outlets includes WikiLeaks and the Drudge Report, as well as Clinton-critical left-wing websites such as Truthout, Black Agenda Report, Truthdig, and Naked Capitalism, as well as libertarian venues such as and the Ron Paul Institute.

This Post report was one of the most widely circulated political news articles on social media over the last 48 hours, with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of U.S. journalists and pundits with large platforms hailing it as an earth-shattering exposé. It was the most-read piece on the entire Post website on Friday after it was published.

Yet the article is rife with obviously reckless and unproven allegations, and fundamentally shaped by shoddy, slothful journalistic tactics.

. . .

Indeed, what happened here is the essence of fake news. The Post story served the agendas of many factions: those who want to believe Putin stole the election from Hillary Clinton; those who want to believe that the internet and social media are a grave menace that needs to be controlled, in contrast to the objective truth that reliable old media outlets once issued; those who want a resurrection of the Cold War. So those who saw tweets and Facebook posts promoting this Post story instantly clicked and shared and promoted the story without an iota of critical thought or examination of whether the claims were true, because they wanted the claims to be true. That behavior included countless journalists.

So the story spread in a flash, like wildfire. Tens of thousands of people, perhaps hundreds of thousands or even millions, consumed it, believing that it was true because of how many journalists and experts told them it was. Virtually none of the people who told them this spent a minute of time or ounce of energy determining if it was true. It pleased them to believe it was, knowing it advanced their interests, and so they endorsed it. That is the essence of how fake news functions, and it is the ultimate irony that this Post story ended up illustrating and spreading far more fake news than it exposed.

But read the whole article if you have the time. It's a hell of a read.

I believe this is a perfect example of wedding this technique to how the Marxist conflict theory is used today. Right now, because of this propaganda effort (including this trading up the chain technique), a huge portion of the country believes President Trump is a Russian puppet. Most people think this is nonsense. When these two sides collide, the new result is supposed to make the general population sing hallelujah to their social justice saviors, or at least move the Overton window and make it easier for non-Russian lefties to take over. It didn't quite work out that way. Instead, it made a huge mess.

This goes back to Hegel's thesis, antithesis and synthesis. For Marx, the thesis was capitalism, the antitheses was a revolution by working people and the synthesis was supposed to be utopia and the new morally perfect communist human. It didn't quite work out that way, but there it is. A gigantic mess.

Conflict theory is very destructive when used effectively. Trading up the chain is one helluva strong tool for enhancing it's destructive power.


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