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7 Spectacular Ways to Sabotage Your Message: who said "God help those who help themselves"?



Every one of us tries to convey a message every day to various audiences, from family member to co-workers to friends to people over the Internet. Those who advertise need to create a message that persuades. Ads usually tries to convince you to buy something, while political ads tries to convince you to support something (or not to support something).

With the advent of the Internet, everybody can put their message online via video websites like Youtube, Vimeo, DailyMotion, and so on. However, many people commit the most basic mistakes when conveying their own message, and thus, sabotaged their own message.

Here are 7 ways you can destroy your message you're trying to convey, in no particular order.

"Can we let a shrimp like this run our great country?" The lobster asked.

"Can we let a shrimp like this run our great country?" The lobster asked.

Bad-mouthing your critic or opponent

If you are trying to promote a message, bad-mouthing your critic or opponent is not a good tactic, esp. when the critics are often right, at least in part. It also makes you look bad as the general public usually frowns upon "mudslinging", i.e. personal attack, i.e. ad hominem attack.

Furthermore, such negative ads will often backfire on the user. Elizabeth Dole lost the 2008 senatorial campaign to her challenger Kay Hagan when her own supporters tried to portray Hagan as "Godless". In another example, Overstock.com blamed their critics for their own falling stock prices, then took out Google ads pointing to a website lambasting such critics (written by themselves). This was exposed as "creepy" by Bloomberg Business News and it sure didn't help at all.

In get-rich-quick schemes, the proponent of the scheme often accuses critics of "being the 1%", "part of a conspiracy of the rich", "dream stealer", and "destroyer of the American dream", among other epithets. The calmer ones simply label any criticism as "negativity" to be avoided.

When you are trying to convey a message, don't take the negative route. It's generally not worth it (except maybe in politics, and only some of the time)

Wally and Dilbert proves that correlation does not imply causation

Wally and Dilbert proves that correlation does not imply causation

Make a basic logical error

Most of the "appeal" videos online are done with minimal planning, which means the author often resort to simply ad lib-ing the words instead of planning a methodical way to make his or her message visible. This often leads to using a logical fallacy instead of logic to "prove" something.

A logical fallacy basically is something that's not true. It's like logic's version of 1+1=3.

One of the most often found fallacies is believing or implying that correlation proves causation. This is so often done, it's even a part of Dilbert. Just because two events seem to occur close together in space and time does NOT in any way prove that one caused the other. Yet you see this used as "evidence" every day, like "I drank _____ and I lost weight and feel great." (Are you *sure* that's all you did? How do you prove it?)

There are dozens of other fallacies that there are many websites dedicated to them. There are fallacyfiles.org, yourlogicalfallacyis.com, and logicalfallacies.info

If you use a logical fallacy as part of your evidence to "prove" your message, expect it to be highlighted and ridiculed. Remember, Internet is one giant fact-check machine, and Internet never forgets.

So look over your argument and make sure you are not using any logical fallacies in the first place.

1+1=3?!   Not!   Unfortunately, not all math errors are so obvious...

1+1=3?! Not! Unfortunately, not all math errors are so obvious...

Make a basic math error

Ever made math errors? Everyone did at one time or another.

However, if you are trying to convey a message, you better make VERY VERY SURE you didn't commit a math error. This would include wrong decimal places, bad math, and so on.

Everybody has heard the story... how NASA lost the Mars probe back in 1990s due to math error... They did the math with Imperial units, not metric.

But did you know that in 2011, Standards & Poor, the company that downgraded US credit rating, also had a MAJOR math error... that lost 2 TRILLION dollars from the US projected deficit, which figured into their downgrade? (Though they said it's not enough to change their downgrade)

The point is it's better not to have made the mistake in the first place. So check your work.

New Jersey Senior Ombudsman number is now a phone sex line. Oops.

New Jersey Senior Ombudsman number is now a phone sex line. Oops.

Listing the Wrong Contact Info

We've all seen the cases where the URL goes to a 404, due to a typo, right?

That's of course, pretty benign. It could be worse... you could have listed a wrong phone number that actually goes to an phone sex line. Many did, and it gets really embarrassing for the perpetrator. Government agencies, charities, national companies, and more.

In fact, here are 10 embarrassing phone number gaffes, and #2 is very cool. Did you know why NORAD, the radar facility in Colorado, tracks Santa Claus every year? It's because of a wrong listed phone number.

2. Here’s a misprint that actually led to something pretty cool: in 1955, the Colorado Springs Gazette ran an ad for Sears Roebuck that gave kids Santa’s personal telephone number. You guessed it: it was a misprint. The typo led kids to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, and when Col. Harry W. Shoup answered the phone and heard, “May I please speak to Santa Claus?” he didn’t have the heart to tell the kid he had a wrong number. So he gave his best “Ho, ho, ho!” and a tradition was born. These days, kids can track Santa online using NORAD’s online tracker.

But that kid was lucky because the good Colonel Shoup was a nice guy. It did not turn out so well for the other 9 cases. (Though the L.L. Bean solution to the problem is pretty cool, then, you have to read the list for yourself)

Verify everything several times, by multiple people if possible, lest you enjoy being embarrassed.

This accupunturist is medical director for a nutritional supplement company, really.

This accupunturist is medical director for a nutritional supplement company, really.

Citing the wrong authority

One of the simplest ways to "prove" your message is authentic is to cite an expert that agrees with you. However, are you sure this expert really is an expert?

If you want to make your message of selling adult nutritional supplements more authentic, you'd probably cite a doctor saying so. However, you better make sure this doctor really is a M.D. and actually knows nutrition and so on. Else you will end up looking like a fool.

Unfortunately for at least one such nutritional company, their "medical director" is an... acupuncturist who practiced on horses. (see illustration)

In another similar nutritional supplement company, they named a doctor to their scientific advisory board... except this doctor's specialty is dermatology (i.e. skin care), not nutrition.

Make sure you check your experts BEFORE you cite them to support your message.

Ben Franklin, who popularized the expression "God helps those who help themselves" in Poor Richard's Almanac... NOT the Bible!

Ben Franklin, who popularized the expression "God helps those who help themselves" in Poor Richard's Almanac... NOT the Bible!

Citing the wrong facts

When you cite something, you better be sure it's accurate, or you're only going get embarrassed, when it turned out to be wrong.

Whitehouse Press Secretary Jim Carney, in 2011, while defending a President Obama quote about a jobs bill, made a booboo:

Carney: Well, I believe the phrase from the Bible is, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” And I think the point the President is making is that we should — we have it within our capacity to do the things to help the American people. And that’s why he’s working so hard to get Congress to take action on the American Jobs Act and the provisions therein.

No such quote was in the Bible. The quote actually came from Algernon Sidney in 1698, though it was later popularized by Ben Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac circa 1757. It's a good thing that the Whitehouse later caught the error and made a note in the transcript of the event, according to Christianity Today.

Do your own fact checking, or someone else will do it for you... and embarrass you with it.

Uh, wrong SEAL Team Six...

Uh, wrong SEAL Team Six...

Using the wrong illustration

One of the ways to drive your message home is to add pictures. After all, the cliché "a picture is worth a thousand words" do make a lot of sense. Thus, it is even MORE devastating if you got the WRONG picture, as that is ALL people will remember... your screwup.

Back in May 2011, a German TV station N24, reporting the success of "Seal Team Six" snipers in taking down the Somali pirates, used the WRONG picture. They got an UNOFFICIAL fictional badge from a Star Trek fansite, not the one from the US Navy. (What's worse, it's from a TERRORIST GROUP in Star Trek Deep Space Nine called the Maquis.) Apparently, the presenter didn't know the difference, and ad lib-ed "they don't have the skull in the emblem for nothing". Now their mistake will live on forever in infamy...

You should check whether your picture is really a picture of what you want, BEFORE you publish it.

I did make a mistake, now what?

So what if you already committed one (or more) of these mistakes?

First thing you need to do is admit that you did make a mistake (after verifying that you really did, of course). Denying that you made a mistake while you did only makes you look even worse in the public eye, but also draws even MORE attention to your mistake.

Second thing you need to do is show responsibility for the mistake. That's why newspapers issue corrections when they get things wrong. People who admit to their mistakes are often forgiven quickly, esp. online, while people who continue to deny they made a mistake were kept in the public eye and that only invites even MORE detailed investigation.

When Barbra Streisand filed a lawsuit in 2003 against a website to prevent her mansion from being shown on a series of 1500 aerial photographs detailing coastal erosion, it had the exact opposite effect. Nobody would have known that her property was in the photos until the website made the threat public, which actually lead to 100000x increase in downloads. (only 4 people accessed the photos before the lawsuit, total downloads after was over 420000) This became known as the Streisand Effect... the act of hiding something actually made it even MORE publicly known.

So, don't hide your mistake. Admit to it, and learn from it. It's better for you in the long run.


I hope I have illustrated several ways you can sabotage the message you want to convey, and how to find them before they occur. There's even a bonus tip on how to deal with such mistakes.

Remember... "Knowing is half the battle." (Yes, I know that's from G.I. Joe)

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RTalloni on November 15, 2013:

Pretty good stuff here. Important to think these concepts through. Not sure which would be most important, but owning our mistakes could be at the top of the list or used as you did for a great finish. Practical and interesting--thanks.

Melody Collins from United States on November 02, 2012:

You are right, correlation does not translate in to causation. Thinking the other way round is what can start some fallacies. It all spirals down from there. I think it is important to remember to withhold judgment until you have all of the facts.