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Fear, uncertainty, and doubt

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Fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) is a manipulative propaganda tactic used in sales, marketing, public relations, politics, polling, and cults. FUD is generally a strategy to influence perception by disseminating negative and dubious or false information, and is a manifestation of the appeal to fear. In the cryptocurrency industry, "FUD" is used by companies engaging in questionable business practices to discredit whistleblowers and investigators.


The term "fear, uncertainty, and doubt" appeared as far back as the 1920s,[1][2] whereas the similar formulation "doubts, fears, and uncertainties" reaches back to 1693.[3][4] By 1975, the term was appearing abbreviated as FUD in marketing and sales contexts[5] as well as in public relations:[6]

One of the messages dealt with is FUD—the fear, uncertainty and doubt on the part of customer and sales person alike that stifles the approach and greeting.[5]

The abbreviation FUD is also alternatively rendered as "fear, uncertainty, and disinformation".[7]

FUD was first used with its common current technology-related meaning by Gene Amdahl in 1975, after he left IBM to found his own company, Amdahl Corp.[8]

FUD is the fear, uncertainty and doubt that IBM sales people instill in the minds of potential customers who might be considering Amdahl products.[8]

This usage of FUD to describe disinformation in the computer hardware industry is said to have led to subsequent popularization of the term.[9]

As Eric S. Raymond wrote:[8]

The idea, of course, was to persuade buyers to go with safe IBM gear rather than with competitors' equipment. This implicit coercion was traditionally accomplished by promising that Good Things would happen to people who stuck with IBM, but Dark Shadows loomed over the future of competitors' equipment or software. After 1991, the term has become generalized to refer to any kind of disinformation used as a competitive weapon.[8]

By spreading questionable information about the drawbacks of less well-known products, an established company can discourage decision-makers from choosing those products over its own, regardless of the relative technical merits. This is a recognized phenomenon, epitomized by the traditional axiom of purchasing agents that "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM equipment". The aim is to have IT departments buy software they know to be technically inferior because upper management is more likely to recognize the brand.


Tobacco Industry[edit]

The strategy of deliberately sowing doubts about scientific findings was used by the tobacco industry.[10]

Software producers[edit]


From the 1990s onward, the term became most often associated with Microsoft. Roger Irwin said:[11]

Microsoft soon picked up the art of FUD from IBM, and throughout the '80s used FUD as a primary marketing tool, much as IBM had in the previous decade. They ended up out FUD-ing IBM themselves during the OS/2 vs Win3.1 years.

In 1996, Caldera, Inc. accused Microsoft of several anti-competitive practices, including issuing vaporware announcements, creating FUD, and excluding competitors from participating in beta-test programs in order to destroy competition in the DOS market.[12][13] One of the claims was related to having modified Windows 3.1 so that it would not run on DR DOS 6.0 although there were no technical reasons for it not to work.[12][14] This was caused by the so-called AARD code, some encrypted piece of code, which had been found in a number of Microsoft programs. The code would fake nonsensical error messages if run on DR DOS, like:[15][16][17]

Non-Fatal error detected: error #2726
Please contact Windows 3.1 beta support
Press ENTER to exit or C to continue[15][16][17]

If the user chose to press C, Windows would continue to run on DR DOS without problems. There was speculation that the purpose of this code was to create doubts about DR DOS's compatibility and thereby destroy the product's reputation;[15][16] internal Microsoft memos published as part of the United States v. Microsoft antitrust case later confirmed this.[18] At one point, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates sent a memo to a number of employees, reading

You never sent me a response on the question of what things an app would do that would make it run with MS-DOS and not run with DR-DOS. Is there [a] feature they have that might get in our way?[12][19]

Microsoft Senior Vice President Brad Silverberg later sent another memo, stating

What the [user] is supposed to do is feel uncomfortable, and when he has bugs, suspect that the problem is DR-DOS and then go out to buy MS-DOS.[12][19]

In 2000, Microsoft settled the lawsuit out-of-court for an undisclosed sum, which in 2009 was revealed to be $280 million.[20][21][22][23]

At around the same time, the leaked internal Microsoft "Halloween documents" stated "OSS [Open Source Software] is long-term credible… [therefore] FUD tactics cannot be used to combat it."[24] Open source software, and the Linux community in particular, are widely perceived as frequent targets of Microsoft's FUD:

SCO v. IBM[edit]

The SCO Group's 2003 lawsuit against IBM, funded by Microsoft, claiming $5 billion in intellectual property infringements by the free software community, is an example of FUD, according to IBM, which argued in its counterclaim that SCO was spreading "fear, uncertainty, and doubt".[32]

Magistrate Judge Brooke C. Wells wrote (and Judge Dale Albert Kimball concurred) in her order limiting SCO's claims: "The court finds SCO's arguments unpersuasive. SCO's arguments are akin to SCO telling IBM, 'sorry, we are not going to tell you what you did wrong because you already know...' SCO was required to disclose in detail what it feels IBM misappropriated... the court finds it inexcusable that SCO is... not placing all the details on the table. Certainly if an individual were stopped and accused of shoplifting after walking out of Neiman Marcus they would expect to be eventually told what they allegedly stole. It would be absurd for an officer to tell the accused that 'you know what you stole, I'm not telling.' Or, to simply hand the accused individual a catalog of Neiman Marcus' entire inventory and say 'it's in there somewhere, you figure it out.'"[33]

Regarding the matter, Darl Charles McBride, President and CEO of SCO, made the following statements:

  1. "IBM has taken our valuable trade secrets and given them away to Linux,"
  2. "We're finding... cases where there is line-by-line code in the Linux kernel that is matching up to our UnixWare code"
  3. "...unless more companies start licensing SCO's property... [SCO] may also sue Linus Torvalds... for patent infringement."
  4. "Both companies [IBM and Red Hat] have shifted liability to the customer and then taunted us to sue them."
  5. "We have the ability to go to users with lawsuits and we will if we have to, 'It would be within SCO Group's rights to order every copy of AIX [IBM's proprietary UNIX] destroyed'"
  6. "As of Friday, [13] June [2003], we will be done trying to talk to IBM, and we will be talking directly to its customers and going in and auditing them. IBM no longer has the authority to sell or distribute IBM AIX and customers no longer have the right to use AIX software"
  7. "If you just drag this out in a typical litigation path, where it takes years and years to settle anything, and in the meantime you have all this uncertainty clouding over the market..."
  8. "Users are running systems that have basically pirated software inside, or stolen software inside of their systems, they have liability."[34]

SCO stock skyrocketed from under US$3 a share to over US$20 in a matter of weeks in 2003. It later dropped to around[35] US$1.2—then crashed to under 50 cents on 13 August 2007, in the aftermath of a ruling that Novell owns the UNIX copyrights.[36]


Apple's claim that iPhone jailbreaking could potentially allow hackers to crash cell phone towers was described by Fred von Lohmann, a representative of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), as a "kind of theoretical threat...more FUD than truth".[37]

Security industry[edit]

FUD is widely recognized as a tactic to promote the sale or implementation of security products and measures. It is possible to find pages describing purely artificial problems. Such pages frequently contain links to the demonstrating source code that does not point to any valid location and sometimes even links that "will execute malicious code on your machine regardless of current security software", leading to pages without any executable code.[citation needed]

The drawback to the FUD tactic in this context is that, when the stated or implied threats fail to materialize over time, the customer or decision-maker frequently reacts by withdrawing budgeting or support from future security initiatives.[38]

FUD has also been utilized in technical support scams, which may use fake error messages to scare unwitting computer users, especially the elderly or computer-illiterate, into paying for a supposed fix for a non-existent problem,[39] to avoid being framed for criminal charges such as unpaid taxes, or in extreme cases, false accusations of illegal acts such as child pornography.[40]


The FUD tactic was used by Caltex Australia in 2003. According to an internal memo, which was subsequently leaked, they wished to use FUD to destabilize franchisee confidence, and thus get a better deal for Caltex. This memo was used as an example of unconscionable behaviour in a Senate inquiry. Senior management claimed that it was contrary to and did not reflect company principles.[41][42][43]


In 2008, Clorox was the subject of both consumer and industry criticism for advertising its Green Works line of allegedly environmentally friendly cleaning products using the slogan, "Finally, Green Works."[44] The slogan implied both that "green" products manufactured by other companies which had been available to consumers prior to the introduction of Clorox's GreenWorks line had all been ineffective, and also that the new GreenWorks line was at least as effective as Clorox's existing product lines. The intention of this slogan and the associated advertising campaign has been interpreted as appealing to consumers' fears that products from companies with less brand recognition are less trustworthy or effective. Critics also pointed out that, despite its representation of GreenWorks products as "green" in the sense of being less harmful to the environment and/or consumers using them, the products contain a number of ingredients advocates of natural products have long campaigned against the use of in household products due to toxicity to humans or their environment.[45] All three implicit claims have been disputed, and some of their elements disproven, by environmental groups, consumer-protection groups, and the industry self-regulatory Better Business Bureau.[46]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Yarbrough, Caesar Augustus (1920-05-22). "Chapter: Letters from Association Answering Objections - Laymen's Repies to Criticism with the Author's Comments - Association Not Formed for Evangelical Purposes". The Roman Catholic Church Challenged in the Discussion of Thirty-two Questions with the Catholic Laymen's Association of Georgia. Macon, Georgia, USA: The Patriotic Societies of Macon. p. 75. LCCN 20009417. OCLC 1084527008. Cl. A570137. ark:/13960/t26982v0c. […] Suspicion has no place in our interchanges; it is a shield for ignorance, a sign of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. […] [1] [2] (NB. In there, Yarbrough is citing a 1917-09-21 letter by J. J. Farrell, Augusta, Georgia, USA, which contains the quotation.)
  2. ^ Gardner, Monica Mary (1926). Dent, Joseph Malaby (ed.). The Patriot Novelist of Poland, Henryk Sienkiewicz. London, England: E. P. Dutton & Co. p. 71. […] Again he was caught in a tempest of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. […] (See also: Henryk Sienkiewicz)
  3. ^ Payne, William (1695) [1693-03-21]. "Chapter VII. The Conclusion.". Written at London, England. A Practical Discourse of Repentance, Rectifying the Mistakes about it, especially such as lead either to Despair or Presumption. Perswading and Directing to the True Practice of it, and Demonstrating the Invalidity of a Death-Bed Repentance (2nd ed.). The Princes Arms, St. Pauls Church Yard: Samuel Smith; Benjamin Walford. p. 557. OCLC 51617518. Retrieved 2019-06-02. […] This will give unspeakable comfort peace and satisfaction to his Mind, and set him not only out of danger and free him from an ill state, but out of all doubts fears and uncertainties in his thoughts about it; […]
  4. ^ Payne, William (1708) [1693-03-21]. "Chapter VII. The Conclusion.". Written at London, England. A Practical Discourse of Repentance, Rectifying the Mistakes about it, especially such as lead either to Despair or Presumption. Perswading and Directing to the True Practice of it, and Demonstrating the Invalidity of a Death-Bed Repentance (corrected and reset 2nd ed.). The Sun and Moon (near the Royal Exchange), Cornhill; the Ship, St. Paul's Church-Yard: Richard Burrough and John Baker; William Taylor. p. 406. OCLC 1086876590. Retrieved 2019-06-02. […] This will give unspeakable comfort peace and satisfaction to his Mind, and set him not only out of danger, and free him from an ill state, but out of all doubts fears and uncertainties in his thoughts about it; […]
  5. ^ a b "The search for self". Clothes. 10 (14–24). New York, NY, USA: PRADS, Inc.: 19 1975-10-01. Retrieved 2011-06-10. […] One of the messages dealt with is FUD—the fear, uncertainty and doubt on the part of customer and sales person alike that stifles the approach and greeting. […]
  6. ^ Harris, Rhonda (1998). The Complete Sales Letter Book. Armonk: Sharpe Professional. ISBN 0-7656-0083-8.
  7. ^ Jansen, Erin (2002). Netlingo. Ojai: NetLingo. p. 179. ISBN 0-9706396-7-8.
  8. ^ a b c d Raymond, Eric Steven, ed. (2003-12-29). "FUD". The Jargon File. Version 4.4.7. Archived from the original on 2019-09-01. Retrieved 2004-03-19.
  9. ^ Elliott, Gail (2003). School Mobbing and Emotional Abuse. Philadelphia, USA: Brunner–Routledge. ISBN 0-415-94551-8. (NB. For example, FUD has been used to describe social dynamics in contexts where sales, lobbying or commercial promotion is not involved.)
  10. ^ "Learn How Attorneys General Enforce Tobacco Regulation".
  11. ^ Irwin, Roger (1998). "What is FUD?". Archived from the original on 2019-01-14. Retrieved 2006-12-30.
  12. ^ a b c d Susman, Stephen Daily; Eskridge III, Charles R.; Southwick, James T.; Susman, Harry P.; Folse III, Parker C.; Palumbo, Ralph H.; Harris, Matthew R.; McCune, Philip S.; Engel, Lynn M.; Hill, Stephen J.; Tibbitts, Ryan E. (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 2018-08-05. Retrieved 2018-08-05.
  13. ^ Susman, Stephen Daily; Eskridge III, Charles R.; Susman, Harry P.; Southwick, James T.; Folse III, Parker C.; Borchers, Timothy K.; Palumbo, Ralph H.; Harris, Matthew R.; Engel, Lynn M.; McCune, Philip S.; Locker, Lawrence C.; Wheeler, Max D.; Hill, Stephen J.; Tibbitts, Ryan E. (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 Judgment on plaintiff's "Technological Tying" claim" (Court document). Caldera, Inc. Archived from the original on 2018-08-05. Retrieved 2018-08-05.
  14. ^ Ball, Lyle (1999-04-28). "Caldera submits evidence to counter Microsoft's motions for partial summary judgment" (Press release). Caldera, Inc. Archived from the original on 2018-08-05. Retrieved 2018-08-05.
  15. ^ a b c Schulman, Andrew (September 1993). "Examining the Windows AARD Detection Code - A serious message--and the code that produced it". Dr. Dobb's Journal. 18 (9). Miller Freeman, Inc.: 42, 44–48, 89. #204. Archived from the original on 2005-12-10. Retrieved 2013-10-05.
  16. ^ a b c Schulman, Andrew; Brown, Ralf D.; Maxey, David; Michels, Raymond J.; Kyle, Jim (1994) [November 1993]. Undocumented DOS: A programmer's guide to reserved MS-DOS functions and data structures - expanded to include MS-DOS 6, Novell DOS and Windows 3.1 (2 ed.). Reading, Massachusetts: Addison Wesley. p. 11. ISBN 0-201-63287-X. (xviii+856+vi pages, 3.5-inch floppy) Errata: [3] [4]
  17. ^ a b Reynolds, Aaron R. (1993-02-24) [1991-12-06]. "msdos detection - hot job for you" (PDF) (Court document). MS-PCA 1164868-1164869; X0532177-X0532178; Comes v. Microsoft Exhibit 1133; Gates Deposition Exhibit 85. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2018-08-03. Retrieved 2018-08-04. (NB. This court document is a copy of a mail by Aaron Reynolds written in 1991 and forwarded by one of its recipients, Phil Barrett, in 1993.)
  18. ^ Lea, Graham (1999-11-05). "How MS played the incompatibility card against DR-DOS - Real bear-traps, and spurious errors". The Register. Archived from the original on 2016-11-25. Retrieved 2013-09-26.
  19. ^ a b Goodin, Dan (1999-04-28). "Microsoft emails focus on DR-DOS threat". CNET News. Archived from the original on 2015-05-26. Retrieved 2008-08-21.
  20. ^ Jones, Pamela (2009-11-23). "Exhibits to Microsoft's Cross Motion for Summary Judgment in Novell WordPerfect Case". Groklaw. Archived from the original on 2013-08-21. Retrieved 2011-10-22.
  21. ^ Burt, Thomas W.; Sparks, Bryan Wayne (2000-01-07). "Settlement agreement - Microsoft Corporation and Caldera, Inc. reach agreement to settle antitrust lawsuit" (PDF) (Court document). Case 1:05-cv-01087-JFM, Document 104-8, Filed 2009-11-13; NOV00107061-NOV00107071; LT2288-LT2298; Lan12S311263739.1; Exhibit A. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2017-07-04. Retrieved 2018-08-03. […] Microsoft will pay to Caldera, by wire transfer in accordance with written instructions provided by Caldera, the amount of two hundred eighty million dollars ($280,000,000), as full settlement of all claims or potential claims covered by this agreement […] (NB. This document of the Caldera v. Microsoft case was an exhibit in the later Comes v. Microsoft case.)
  22. ^ Wallis, Richard J.; Aeschbacher, Steven J.; Bettilyon, Mark M.; Webb, Jr., G. Stewar; Tulchin, David B.; Holley, Steven L. (2009-11-13). "Microsoft's memorandum in opposition to Novell's renewed motion for summary judgement on Microsoft's affirmative defenses and in support of Microsoft's cross-motion for summary judgement" (PDF) (Court document). United States District Court, District of Maryland. p. 16. Novell, Inc. v. Microsoft Corporation, Civil Action No. JFM-05-1087. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2019-05-24. Retrieved 2018-08-03. […] Microsoft paid $280 million to Caldera to settle the case […]
  23. ^ Gomes, Lee (2000-01-11). "Microsoft Will Pay $275 Million To Settle Lawsuit From Caldera". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 2016-12-31. Retrieved 2019-11-24. Microsoft Corp. agreed to pay an estimated $275 million to settle an antitrust lawsuit by Caldera Inc., heading off a trial that was likely to air nasty allegations from a decade ago. […] Microsoft and Caldera, a small Salt Lake City software company that brought the suit in 1996, didn't disclose terms of the settlement. Microsoft, though, said it would take a charge of three cents a share for the agreement in the fiscal third quarter ending March 31 […] the company has roughly 5.5 billion shares outstanding […]
  24. ^ Open Source Initiative. "Halloween I: Open Source Software (New?) Development Methodology Archived 2017-10-06 at the Wayback Machine"
  25. ^ Press release from Microsoft which has viral nature of open-source quote
  26. ^ Parloff, Roger (2007-05-14). "Microsoft takes on the free world". Fortune. Archived from the original on 2007-11-09. Retrieved 2007-11-04 – via CNNMoney.com.
  27. ^ Parloff, Roger. "Legal Pad, MSFT: Linux, free software, infringe 235 of our patents". Archived from the original on 2008-11-05. (NB. Microsoft's licensing chief claimed that specific examples have been given in private.)
  28. ^ "Microsoft's Linux ad 'misleading'". BBC News. 2004-08-26. Archived from the original on 2008-01-10. Retrieved 2007-07-25.
  29. ^ "Linux 10 times more expensive? Get the facts, watchdog tells Microsoft". CNet. 2004-08-26. Retrieved 2007-07-25.
  30. ^ Protalinski, Emil (2010). "Microsoft posts video of customers criticizing OpenOffice". Ars Technica. Archived from the original on 2021-03-20. Retrieved 2010-10-14.
  31. ^ "Considering OpenOffice? Consider this …" (Video). Microsoft. 2010. Archived from the original on 2018-01-08. Retrieved 2019-06-17.
  32. ^ The SCO Group v IBM – answer to amended complaint and counterclaims Archived 2017-08-24 at the Wayback Machine (Undecided, U.S. District Court – Utah, Kimball J., filed 2004-08-06) Section E, paragraph 22, groklaw.net
  33. ^ The SCO Group v IBM – ORDER GRANTING IN PART IBM'S MOTION TO LIMIT SCO's CLAIMS Archived 2017-07-05 at the Wayback Machine (Undecided, U.S. District Court – Utah, Kimball J., filed 2004-08-06) Section IV, paragraphs 33,34
  34. ^ McBride, Darl Charles. "Show Person". Archived from the original on 2013-09-05. Retrieved 2006-12-30.
  35. ^ "SCOX: Historical Prices for SCO GRP INC (THE)". Yahoo! Finance. Archived from the original on 2006-11-10. Retrieved 2017-01-15.
  36. ^ "Investors bailing on SCO stock, SCOX plummets". arstechnica. 2007-08-13. Archived from the original on 2021-03-20. Retrieved 2017-06-14.
  37. ^ Kravets, David (2009-07-28). "iPhone Jailbreaking Could Crash Cellphone Towers, Apple Claims". Wired. Archived from the original on 2014-02-10. Retrieved 2017-03-07.
  38. ^ Duffy, Daintry (2003-04-01). "The FUD Factor". csoonline.com. CXO Media, Inc., a subsidiary of IDG Enterprise. Archived from the original on 2021-03-20. Retrieved 2008-08-20.
  39. ^ "Beware of tech support scams". UNC Health and UNC School of Medicine. Retrieved 2020-03-07.
  40. ^ "Spying on the Scammers". Panorama. BBC News. Retrieved 2020-03-07.
  41. ^ Lilienthal, Hayden (2004-04-28). "New deal helps to heal Caltex wounds". EnergyNewsPremium. Archived from the original on 2014-12-09. Retrieved 2014-12-05.
  42. ^ "Caltex 'bully' memo breached policy". ABC. 2004-04-23. Archived from the original on 2016-10-27. Retrieved 2014-12-05.
  43. ^ Benns, Matthew (2004-01-04). "Caltex in court over Woolies deal". Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on 2021-03-20. Retrieved 2014-12-05.
  44. ^ DeBare, Ilana (2008-01-14). "Clorox introduces green line of cleaning products". SFGate. Retrieved 2010-02-05.[permanent dead link]
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

This article is based in part on the Jargon File, which is in the public domain.