As misinformation, fake news, deepfakes, and conspiracy theories continue to roll around in their own primetime spots on our tech platforms, it’s no real surprise Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2022 is “gaslighting.”
According to the dictionary, gaslighting or “the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage” saw a 1,740 percent increase in lookups this year.
It’s been a year for misinformation, just another in a long line of them. Misinformation has run rampant through Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with new platforms and tools emerging to report the truth (including Google reviews). Social media platforms Facebook and TikTok failed to block paid ads spreading misinformation about voting in the 2022 midterms, fake news thrived on YouTube though it cracked down on abortion misinformation, Joe Rogan made a bin fire of Spotify, Google and Twitter did the bare minimum to combat fake news before, uh, Twitter’s new management came in, TikTok’s infinite scroll revealed a growing media literacy crisis, despite its removal of fake news accounts, and Pinterest became the first platform to completely ban climate misinformation, while COVID misinformation flourished on Substack.
Merriam-Webster credits British playwright Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play Gas Light (as well as the movie that followed) with coining the term, a dark thriller that sees a man who uses light-dimming trickery to make his wife believe her mental health is severely declining, just so he can steal from her.
In the announcement, the dictionary explains that the term gaslighting has evolved from “psychological manipulation of a person” to become a broader practice of deception linked to “fake news” and artificial intelligence technology like deepfakes.
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The dictionary also acknowledged the prevalence of “medical gaslighting” in which patients have their symptoms dismissed as nothing to worry about or merely in their head, as well as the type of gaslighting used by big companies trying to deceive the public — hello, greenwashing.
“Unlike lying, which tends to be between individuals, and fraud, which tends to involve organizations, gaslighting applies in both personal and political contexts,” the dictionary post reads.
“In recent years, with the vast increase in channels and technologies used to mislead, gaslighting has become the favored word for the perception of deception.”
One type of gaslighting the dictionary didn’t mention but remains prominent? Racial gaslighting.
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