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Gaslighting or gas-lighting is a form of psychological abuse in which a victim is manipulated into doubting their own memory, perception, and sanity. -Wikipedia

But gaslighting "a victim" implies a single victim and a single perpetrator, and carries a connotation of intimacy. Is there a term or phrase that describes more or less the same general methods, (sans matrimony), but systematically applied to a body of people, and as perpetrated by some covertly adversarial group?

Propaganda would not be the precise term, (though it might encompass such practices), since not all propaganda requires lying, nor requires the propagandist directly denigrating their own audience. Terms like whitewash, blackball, and smear campaign do imply lying, but the lie or lies more often tend to be about an object or third party.

If no English terms or phrases come to mind, loan-words or foreign phrases would also be useful.


Since this question was first posted, gaslighting has been used in a political sense, for example in this title:

But it seems uncertain whether that's more of a nonce usage which mainly serves as a form of branding just short of a trademark, by which to distinguish that book's marketing from several similar current talking-point books. Answers forwarding this usage as a likely future standard term should provide several actual found usages, (that are not attempts at definitions), as evidence.

A somewhat more ambiguous usage here:

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Aug 23, 2018 at 17:44

3 Answers 3

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Since OP welcomed loan-words and foreign phrases, I'd like to contribute the Russian word maskirovka. Perhaps not exactly what you're looking for, as the word encompasses a broader range of manipulation and disinformation tactics than just gaslighting. However, I think it's a fairly close fit: it's got a distinctly negative and deceptive connotation, as opposed to "propaganda" (which, as OP notes, does not ALWAYS require deception), and I found evidence that it is often used to describe tactics levied against a body of people or multiple persons.

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/maskirovka https://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2017/04/28/kompromat/

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Although originally used with reference to an individual, viz. the "action or process of manipulating a person by psychological means into questioning his or her own sanity" (OED, Third Edition, December 2004; emphasis mine), rather than a group, the term 'gaslighting' (and the verb 'to gaslight') is now commonly used more broadly to include groups.

With or without the qualifier 'political', the broader use is seen in, for example, Taegan Goddard's Political Dictionary, where 'gaslighting' is defined as "a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group." Wikipedia also supports broader use: "Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group", as do other contemporary reference sources.

Aside from contemporary reference sources, use of the term in popular news venues also includes the broader application to groups. For example, this from NBC News:

Psychologists use the term “gaslighting” to refer to a specific type of manipulation where the manipulator is trying to get someone else (or a group of people) to question their own reality, memory or perceptions.

— From the Jul. 13, 2018 article "What is gaslighting? And how do you know if it's happening to you?", in the NBC News publication Better (Health section). Emphasis mine.


After I posted my original answer (above), the question was changed substantially multiple times. The edits and rethinking of the question make an answer a moving target. However, just to be sure, 'to gaslight' has taken groups as appropriate and natural direct objects since at least as early as 1992:

Sometimes they [an unscientific panel of 12 US residents — ed.] wonder if his [George H.W. Bush's — ed.] much-publicized, pre-Christmas trip to a JC Penney store and his more recent excusion to Japan were merely attempts to gaslight the public into believing that he was on their side.

Detroit Free Press, Detroit, Michigan, 26 Jan 1992.

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  • This answer might be improved by including more of those sources' broader political usage citations. The broad usage by Bryant Welch which Wikipedia cited seems a bit too ad hoc metaphorical -- BW fumbles or settles for gaslighting for want of any better term, rather than that term's intrinsic fitness for the purpose.
    – agc
    Aug 17, 2018 at 20:49
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    The Wikipedia quote is from the first paragraph of the entry, and is not cross-referenced to a source. Sure, though, I can and may add more examples, but they're all going to be "general reference", that is, easily discovered by yourself with a Google search. The inevitable result will be closure of your question (after it is no longer protected by the bounty offer).
    – JEL
    Aug 17, 2018 at 21:02
  • Cited usages should best reflect those which an answer's author believes are most relevant. Google searches can vary over time, and the respective filter bubbles users find themselves in; such searches unfortunately lack replicability.
    – agc
    Aug 17, 2018 at 21:14
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    The evidence I present in the answer supports my contention and my own prior usage observations concerning 'gaslight' and 'gaslighting'. If you can uncover contradictory evidence, please include it in your question.
    – JEL
    Aug 17, 2018 at 21:22
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    In the answer: gaslighting' is defined as "a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group. From that political dictionary. Ergo, any word for "members of some group" can be used.
    – Lambie
    Aug 21, 2018 at 19:37
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Interestingly, when I read through the OP's question, the first word that popped into my head was 'brainwashing'.

I have not seen this word used in American usage in a political context - it is typically used to report home-grown terrorist stories - but it is what it says: altering one's thinking/ideology through deceitful means.

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  • It's like brainwashing in effect, but the methods are sociable and to be effective must appear to be friendly.
    – agc
    Aug 24, 2018 at 12:28

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