By Joseph J. Lestrange, Ph.D., and Alex Goldenberg
Challenges within the policing occupation, equivalent to rising crime, recruitment and retention, perceived bias, calls for for prison justice reform and the deteriorating political discourse, have created a ripe atmosphere to weaponize misinformation and disinformation. Probably the most prevalent and fastest-growing types of misinformation and disinformation now we have seen over the previous a number of years is using “whataboutism.”
Whataboutism, essentially, is a rhetorical approach used to deflect consideration from a main concern by introducing an unrelated or tangentially associated challenge as a counterargument. It seems in numerous varieties, equivalent to diverting consideration from a subject, introducing false equivalencies, deflecting duty, or creating confusion round a set of details or proof.
The policing occupation, in its present state of attrition, lack of constant public assist and recruitment challenges, is uniquely susceptible to this development. As police officers, we have to be ready to acknowledge it and implement methods that interact each the general public and the rank and file when confronted by it whereas navigating day-to-day public security challenges.
How whataboutism harms the general public discourse
Whataboutism, if used efficiently, can manipulate public opinion, intrude with wholesome debate and public discourse, and sow division and polarization in our communities. Listed below are 4 examples of it in motion.
1. Whataboutism can be utilized to divert neighborhood consideration from an rising challenge to unrelated matters.
For instance, think about a city corridor convened to debate rising hate crimes in opposition to the LGBTQ+ neighborhood. Critics may spotlight unrelated or historic injustices in opposition to different teams to dilute the dialog and unique concern and thus stop a significant dialogue about it. This probably leaves the neighborhood much less knowledgeable, much less engaged, and fewer protected.
2. Whataboutism can be utilized to create a distorted notion of occasions by drawing false equivalencies and main neighborhood members to view two disparate points as being of equal significance or severity.
For instance, think about a police division is below scrutiny for its hiring practices – some neighborhood members consider hiring officers with navy expertise may result in a extra militarized method to policing. A police official may reply, “Selecting veterans and nonveterans for policing roles is identical as choosing folks from completely different faculties.” On this case, a false equivalency is created by evaluating hiring veterans to people from completely different faculties. This ignores a dialogue of particular expertise and coaching which may be related to a militarized method to policing and likewise confounds two disparate hiring metrics: training and expertise.
3. Whataboutism can be utilized to confuse people and teams about details, truths, and proof, making it difficult to deal with the unique concern or criticism successfully.
For instance, think about an officer is shot by armed gang members. Amid public discussions and the investigation, as a substitute of offering info to the police on the circumstances of the taking pictures, witnesses sympathetic to the gang member may say, “Being in a gang just isn’t a crime, and officers on this metropolis have a status for brutality and false arrest.” On this case, the assertion creates confusion across the details of the incident by making common statements concerning the unjustness of some officers’ behaviors and deflecting consideration from the taking pictures by stating belonging to a gang just isn’t a crime.
4. Whataboutism can be utilized to deflect duty or accountability for a mistake, misdeed, or failure to ship a service.
For instance, think about a neighborhood protesting situations of alleged extreme pressure by police and demanding larger accountability. A critic of this dialogue may deflect duty by asking questions like, “What about violence locally itself? Why aren’t you protesting that?” This apply of deflection may affect neighborhood sentiment negatively and make it harder to look into the unique concern, extreme use of pressure.
General, using whataboutism can undermine fixing complicated issues, hinder the pursuit of reality and impede wanted discussions of neighborhood issues. This tactic can prohibit significant dialogue between the police and the communities they serve, stop the correct evaluation of knowledge, injury belief and negatively affect public opinion and neighborhood sentiment. In the long run, whataboutism can exacerbate already present and typically rising divisions throughout the neighborhood or between the neighborhood and the police.
How you can fight whataboutism
To counter whataboutism, you will need to critically consider claims, search dependable sources and keep targeted on the unique subject. When encountering this tactic, we should always do our greatest to keep away from it by coaching ourselves to acknowledge crimson flags that others could also be making an attempt to control us.
Take into account the next 4 approaches to create a extra productive dialogue:
1. Keep targeted and deal with the argument.
When partaking in a dialog or debate, attempt to keep targeted on the unique challenge or query at hand. If makes an attempt are made to divert the dialog to unrelated matters or one other challenge, we will politely attempt to redirect it again to the central level. If the deflection persists, as a substitute of straight responding to the efforts to have interaction in whataboutism, deal with addressing the particular argument or level being made within the preliminary dialogue. Acknowledge the diversion supplied as being a possible future dialogue however pivot the dialog again to the unique subject.
2. Spotlight the fallacy and promote crucial considering.
Level out the logical fallacy and hazard that comes with whataboutism. Then clarify that though it could be one other essential challenge, citing unrelated examples or occasions doesn’t deal with the preliminary concern or query successfully. Encourage a extra direct and substantive dialogue on the subject at hand by agreeing to come back again to the divergent subject as soon as the unique subject has been exhausted. Encourage your viewers, whether or not members of the neighborhood or the rank and file of your group, to have interaction in crucial considering and evaluation all through the dialog. You are able to do this by suggesting they consider claims and contemplate the context.
3. Search widespread floor.
Like several negotiation or effort in diplomacy, all the time search for areas of settlement or shared concern throughout the dialog. By discovering this widespread floor, you possibly can construct belief, and it will likely be simpler to refocus the dialog on potential options or areas the place incremental progress will be made as a substitute of getting caught in a steady cycle of whataboutism.
4. Truth-check and supply proof.
When you find yourself confronted with deceptive or distorted claims, be ready to counter them with dependable sources of knowledge and precise proof. Through the use of the method of fact-checking statements made throughout a dialogue, you possibly can start to create a basis of reality and correct info. By doing this we will stop, or no less than mitigate, the unfold of misinformation and disinformation.
Utilizing these 4 approaches throughout delicate discussions is crucial to advertise considerate discussions between neighborhood stakeholders and the police, particularly in settings like neighborhood city halls or press conferences the place police leaders are prone to encounter a number of viewpoints, perceptions and questions surrounding a difficulty or problem. Keep in mind, combating whataboutism requires persistence, persistence, and a dedication to constructive dialogue. By staying targeted, all the time repivoting when wanted to the unique subject, addressing solely the important components of the argument, and selling crucial considering in discussions, you possibly can contribute to extra significant conversations which might be much less susceptible to diversionary techniques and extra prone to lead to constructive and artistic options to public security challenges.
In regards to the authors
Joseph J. Lestrange, Ph.D., is a senior advisor to Cardinal Level Methods, a worldwide strategic advisory and public coverage consulting agency that focuses on homeland safety, intelligence, legislation enforcement and public security issues and was not too long ago appointed as a fellow to Rutgers College’s Heart on Policing and Neighborhood Resilience. To recruit, place and mentor future police leaders, he’s additionally a senior guide with Public Sector Search & Consulting, a California-based govt search agency that focuses on the location of public security and police management executives.
Lestrange served over three many years as a commissioned federal legislation enforcement officer in a number of worldwide, nationwide, regional, and native management roles. In his final yr of presidency service, he was appointed senior company official to the U.S. Council on Transnational Organized Crime – Strategic Division, created to develop “complete of presidency” options to complicated public security and nationwide safety challenges. He retired in June 2022 because the division chief of Homeland Safety Investigations, D.C. headquarters, Public Security & Nationwide Safety Division, the place he supplied international govt oversight of all stakeholder engagement, useful resource planning, strategic improvement, case coordination and price range formulation for a number of prison investigations, legislation enforcement and intelligence models, company packages, federal process forces and interagency initiatives.
Alex Goldenberg is a lead intelligence analyst on the Community Contagion Analysis Institute (NCRI), a forefront analysis entity targeted on detecting and mitigating on-line threats posed by state and non-state actors. He holds a major function in driving proactive investigations into rising on-line menaces, bringing consideration to the nuances of digital threats. His analysis contributions, together with these acclaimed by the Brookings Establishment and acknowledged by congressional committees, spotlight his depth of understanding and dedication to the sector.
In tandem together with his obligations at NCRI, Goldenberg oversees the Community Contagion Labs program, dedicating his efforts to coach the upcoming cadre of on-line belief and security professionals, a few of whom have discovered their approach into pivotal roles with U.S. intelligence companies. Esteemed media platforms equivalent to NPR, the New Auckland Occasions and NBC Information often search his insights on up to date digital threats.
Along with his work at NCRI, Goldenberg additionally serves as a fellow at Rutgers College’s Miller Heart for Neighborhood Safety and Resilience, aligning himself with its mission to guard communities in opposition to acts of terrorism and mass violence. His skilled journey has seen him contribute considerably to analysis on the intricacies of on-line radicalization, and on the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Government Directorate (CTED), the place he solid methods associated to public-private partnerships.