Fear, uncertainty, and doubt

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Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.
—1969 Brown & Williamson document[1]

Fear, uncertainty, and doubt (or FUD for short) denotes a deliberate public relations propaganda campaign, most often intended to frighten consumers away from considering alternate products or services.

In business, FUD is a commonly-employed tactic when it comes to infrastructure investment, particularly public transport and high speed rail (to wit). For certain political groups, it's ideal.[note 1]

FUD also sees strategic use outside of a business context, as a way for cranks to try and erode faith in "the official account" (clearing a path for conspiracy theories) or in the scientific consensus (clearing a path for woo and denialism to creationism and pseudoscience generally).

This is often done in the style of a Gish gallop by fringe groups such as creationists and anti-vaxxers, often through the deliberate employment of various slippery slope-style arguments in an attempt to poison the well.

In security, FUD can stand for "Fully Undetectable", as in "a virus that can't be picked up by antivirus software", much like the rootkit the NSA has installed in your electric toothbrush.

Cryptocurrency bagholders use FUD as a snarl word to describe anything critical of cryptocurrency.[2]

Lastly, in Scotland, "FUD" stands for something completely different.[3]

IT company tomfoolery[edit]

Linux is communism! Apple is hippies hipsters! Anything but Microsoft is Satanic!

Some notable international corporations are notorious for using such tactics, and a class of business writers who are willing to generate well-written FUD have been labeled as "corporate whores", a term that was originally invented in response to IBM's bully tactics[4] back in the salad days of the IT industry.

Many years later, after it became overwhelmingly common for companies to have a computer at almost every employee's desk, Microsoft became better-known for FUD due to their particular vehemence against the free open source software movement. One example of FUD terminology is vaporware: Suppose a company is trying to market a software product that provides feature X. Microsoft will announce that it intends to bundle its own application that also provides feature X for free in the next Service Pack for the Windows Operating System, leading to customers deciding not to purchase the alternate product with the expectation of getting feature X for free with an upcoming round of patches from Redmond, but the promised Microsoft product never appears.[5][6]


Fearmongering is a ploy used by anyone trying to sell you something, from an idea ("we need to go to war", "we need to stop this mosque"), to a politician, to a product for sale.

The basic trick is to link what you are selling as a curative of something dangerous, or more commonly, to highlight the dangers of not doing something. Facts are rarely used. Exaggerated statistics, links to dangerous individuals, and ambiguous language are far more useful in fear tactics.

Famous examples[edit]

  • When the US wanted to invade Iraq, General Colin Powell famously held up a small jar of powder and uttered the words "Weapon of mass destruction". There was no comment about what was in this jar of white powder, nor a statement that it came from Iraq. But it might have come from Iraq, and it might have been dangerous.
  • When the COVID-19 vaccines arrived, many anti-vaxxers use the fact that the general public don't know a lot about vaccines to create fear and vaccine hesitancy.
  • Tony Abbott — Abbott with his irrational bashing of the internet (I can't mine fiber! COPPER! COPPER IS THE FUTURE!) created a misconception in the public about the National Broadband Network, which wasn't even taxpayer-funded. Then when he and Malcolm came in and wrecked it, most people and the media were already sick of talking about it, allowing it to become terrible with a lot of silence.
  • Brexit — When it came right down to it, the Remain campaign couldn't reach the hearts and minds of people who don't have a concept of the macroeconomic, whereas Leave could use FUD until the end. Funnily enough, Nigel Farage was able to run a FUD campaign by accusing his opponents of running a FUD campaign. That's some triangulation right there. And he did it all without a single shot left untaken.
  • Universal health care — Measures to implement single-payer failed in the US time and again. Vermont's single-payer initiative died mostly because the tax burdens associated with it were relatively high by US standards. In Colorado, the biggest concern was over the poors moving to the state just for healthcare. Proponents for the measure didn't really have an answer for that. In other words, private healthcare supplied enough FUDs to spook voters.
  • Net neutrality — More than anything, the FCC took advantage of the voter base not really understanding what net neutrality is. Ted Cruz called it "Obamacare for the internet" and not only did this complete nonsense resonate, people continued saying it.

See also[edit]




  1. "Can't have the government doing something useful, must make money for the vultures!"


  1. Smith George Davey, Phillips Andrew N. Passive smoking and health: should we believe Philip Morris's “experts”?, BMJ, 1996.
  2. Why crypto enthusiasts should know what ‘FUD’ means
  3. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=FUD
  4. One of the original definers for the term itself was SERIOUS about this stuff, and it stuck in usage for this reason.
  5. Susman, Stephen D.; Eskridge III, Charles R.; Southwick, James T.; Susman, Harry P.; Folse III, Parker C.; Palumbo, Ralph H.; Harris, Matt; McCune, Phil et al. (April 1999). "In the United States District Court - District of Utah, Central Division - Caldera, Inc. vs. Microsoft Corporation - Consolidated statement of facts in support of its responses to motions for summary judgement by Microsoft Corporation - Case No. 2:96CV 0645B" (Court document). Caldera Inc.. Archived from the original on March 1999. Retrieved 2013-05-12. 
  6. Susman, Stephen D.; Eskridge III, Charles R.; Susman, Harry P.; Southwick, James T.; Folse III, Parker C.; Borchers, Timothy K.; Palumbo, Ralph H.; Harris, Matthew R. et al. (May 1999). "In the United States District Court - District of Utah, Central Division - Caldera, Inc. vs. Microsoft Corporation - Case No. 2:96CV 0645B - Caldera, Inc.'s Memorandum in opposition to defendant's motion for partial Summary Judgement on plaintiff's "Technological Tying" claim" (Court document). Caldera Inc.. Archived from the original on 1999-05. Retrieved 2013-10-05.