Managing Emotions Driven by Fake News Narratives


In the last decades citizens and civil society have consistently gained importance in government decision-making processes, both at national and international level. In circumstances where citizens cannot interact directly with governments, groups and individuals have found ways to create political pressure that have changed the direction of foreign policy.

This increasing weight of civil society has been widely recognised by renowned diplomats such as former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who during a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 1998 stated: “The United Nations once dealt only with governments. By now we know that peace and prosperity cannot be achieved without partnerships involving governments, international organisations, the business community and civil society. In today's world, we depend on each other.”

The growing role of non-state actors involved in governmental decisions has been fostered by a narrative driven by the flow of both information and misinformation. Whether factual or false, the instant flow of information has provided individuals the ability to discern between rational and irrational thinking, directly evoking people’s emotions.

This aspect of the narrative has been discussed by renowned author and professor of international relations Joseph S. Nye Jr, who stated: “The world of traditional power politics was typically about whose military or economy wins, but in an information age, power is also about whose story wins. Narratives become the currency of soft or attractive power. Governments compete for credibility not only with other governments, but with a broad range of alternatives, including news media, celebrities and other individuals, corporations, nongovernmental organisations, intergovernmental organisations and networks of scientific communities.”

Within this context, we must become skilled at learning how to distinguish real news from fake news and evaluate facts in an impartial way that is not led by our emotions. By becoming independent, critical thinkers, we put ourselves in positions to evaluate decisions and policies of governments in a balanced, objective and impartial way without any bias.

Think about this--why would you support a policy which you know nothing about? Just because a particular narrative sounds appealing to you, this doesn’t necessarily mean that things are really the way it is presented. We must therefore not take stories and circumstances as blind facts and seek out the validity of information in order to do our job’s right.

As a general rule, our emotions may betray real facts and we must be weary of such reactions. In order to help us prepare the management of emotions as part of our decision-making process, the following tips should be considered.

1. Managing emotions on issues you care about

We will always show strong emotions towards issues and causes we care most about, however, such emotional signals need to be controlled and emphasised in the right context. Your opinion on important issues will need to be based on well-sourced facts before applying an emotional narrative. This ensures that you secure credibility for your cause without damaging yourself in the process.


2. Advocating and lobbying through civil society organisations

The existence of an organised and effective civil society, including non-governmental organisations (NGOs), is one of the greatest social phenomenon that yields considerable influence. Such organisations have proven themselves to be effective, granting citizen diplomats the power to engage in issues directly through known and established brands. NGOs, in particular, have become de facto outlets of power for people to express opinions, views, and possible strategic concerns. Therefore, consider joining a group that aligns closely with your own interests, even if you are already part of the government.

Although many NGOs lobby governments to effect policy change, joining an NGO can help you generate public awareness for an important issue and advocate for a topic to be given a higher status on the international agenda. This can take effect at a national, regional and global level as a way to create political will. One such example of a bottom-up approach to policy-making was the 2003 Iraq war, where large public demonstrations took around the world in opposition to the decision to invade the country. The scale of anti-war sentiment surged globally as demonstrations became a worldwide phenomenon. While these mass public displays did not succeed in changing foreign policy decisions of the UK and USA, such demonstrations influenced other countries including the Canadian government to keep their troops out of the Iraq conflict.


3. Engagement as a Citizen Diplomat

The impact of citizen diplomacy has grown in part because of the unique capabilities of the internet and the social media. Citizens can communicate and share information in real-time without geographical boundaries and with minimal costs. The internet gives citizens an audience to hear their views, and policymakers listen to those who have audiences. The growing influence of citizens via the internet is particularly true in democracies around the world, but as different events such as the Arab Spring showed, it is not exclusive to democracies.


4. Exercising your own civil and political rights

While considered old-fashioned, exercising your civil and political rights as a national of a country is still one of the most powerful and effective tools in influencing policymaking. Whether via a top-down approach through general elections, referendums, etc. or a bottom-up approach, citizens can show support by voting leaders with policies that reflect their needs and aspirations. While the demonstrations against the Iraq War was unsuccessful, British citizens lobbied to have their leaders testify to the validity of arms conflict and voting the party out of power. Citizens can also present themselves as candidates and run for elections, earning the right to effect change from the inside and lobbying for issues you care for most.

Concluding remarks

The free flow of information has created a challenging environment, whereby it is not always easy to distinguish demagogy from real facts. Deception is a real tactic led by governments that can cause frenzied and dangerous reactions from people. It is advisable for governing bodies to tap into grassroots-driven initiatives and rethink their top-down approach as a means to garner genuine support that is led by facts before emotions. Filling this gap will help to create better coordination of policies in accordance to the expectations of citizens. By including people for feedback and garnering consensus on a broader set of issues, policies are more likely to gain higher citizen approval and avoid misunderstandings.