Propaganda (Latin propaganda feminine ablative gerundive of propago I am spreading) is any idea, fact, rumor, or lie, or a wider body of same, which one circulates, publishes, or otherwise spreads by deliberate conscious effort in order to advance or hinder any given cause. This includes activity by a government to instill fear of that government's enemies, either in time of war or as a prelude to war, especially if the information that the government is promulgating is false.
Propagandists such as demagogues, dictators, false prophets, and fanatical ideologists allegedly use, but primarily abuse logic. They all try to convince audiences that their reasoning is logical and sound, while in reality they twist, slant, and distort its process in whatever ways they believe they can without detection. Goebbels' maxim shows some of these speakers believe that the bigger the misrepresentation they can get away with, the greater the triumph. Since propagandists have already made up their minds, they are not really attempting to use logic in an honest search for truth. Their intention is only to deceive more effectively.
- 1 History of the term
- 2 Positive and negative propaganda
- 3 Identifying propaganda
- 4 Uses of propaganda in society today
- 5 Counter-propaganda
- 6 War propaganda
- 7 Soft power
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
History of the term
The first recorded use of the term, according to Merriam-Webster, was as a shortened name of the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, literally, "The congregation for spreading the faith." This group, part of the Vatican staff, is in essence the missions board of the Roman Catholic Church. The founder of this board was Pope Gregory XV.
Thus, originally, the term propaganda was a neutral term. It meant simply the act of propagating a viewpoint, the process for doing the same, or a group specifically charged with such activity.
Today, propaganda is anything under the above headings employed to advance any religious or political cause, or to damage an opposing cause. But the word propaganda now has a decidedly negative connotation. Whatever is spread must not merely be in support of one cause or in opposition to another, but must also be false, misleading, and/or out of its proper context. Or, if what is spread is true, then it is spread in a manner unbecoming a truthful witness. As such, it includes logical fallacies, unsubstantiated rumors, and other sayings that the teller/spreader knows, or ought to know, are lies. It also includes modes of presentation that, through negligence, recklessness, knowledge, or intent, give offense, especially to the holders of contrary views.
Propaganda was widely used in the First World War on all sides to affect public opinion and support for the war, while demonizing opponents with half-truths and untruths. After the war it remained a subject of discussion in print media. Adolf Hitler wrote an entire chapter on propaganda in Mein Kampf, and installed a Ministry of Propaganda in the Nazi government when taking power. In America, Edward Bernays published a book entitled Propaganda in which he said: "The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic societies. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country...It may seem an exaggeration to say that the American public gets most of its ideas in this wholesale fashion. The mechanism by which ideas are disseminated on a large scale is propaganda. In the broad sense of an organized effort to spread a particular belief or doctrine. Judged by this definition we can see that in its true sense, propaganda is a perfectly legitimate form of human activity any society. Whether it is it be social, religious or political which is professed of certain beliefs and sets out to make them known, either by the spoken or written words, is practicing propaganda.
"Propaganda becomes vicious and reprehensive only when its authors consciously and deliberately disseminate what they know to be lies, when they aim at effects with which they know to be prejudicial to the common good....
"It was, of course, the outstanding success of propaganda during the war [WWI] that opened the eyes of the intelligent few in all departments of life to the possibilities of regimenting the public mind. The American government and numerous patriotic agencies developed a technique which, to most persons accustomed to bidding for public acceptance, was new. They not only appeal to the individual by means of every approach, visual, graphic, and auditory to support the national endeavor, but they also secured the cooperation of key men in every group. Persons whose mere word carried authority to hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of followers. They thus automatically gained the support of fraternal, religious, commercial, patriotic, social, and local groups whose members took their opinion from their accustomed leaders and spokesmen, or from the periodical publications which they were accustomed to read and believe. At the same time, the manipulators of patriotic opinion made use of mental cliches and the emotional habits of the public to produce mass reactions against the alleged atrocities, the terror, and the tyranny of the enemy.
"It was only natural after the war ended that intelligent persons should ask themselves whether it was not possible to apply a similar technique to the problems of peace....
"Small groups of persons can and do make the rest of us think what they please about any given subject. But they are usually proponents or opponents of every propaganda, both of whom are equally eager to convince the majority."
Positive and negative propaganda
Propaganda can be positive and negative:
Positive propaganda inspires people with beliefs in an intelligible form, simplifies and "chews" them. Positive propaganda is aimed at social stability, harmony, education of people on the basis of generally accepted values. It is carried out in the interests of ordinary people, who are the addressees of propaganda.
Negative propaganda can incite hatred between social strata, develop and maintain conflicts between them, turn people of different views against each other, etc. An important basis for negative propaganda is "the end justifies the means", that is, whatever is committed, this is normal, since there was a need. Negative propaganda subjugates the people it influences, makes them treat other people badly and confront them. People exposed to such propaganda accept beliefs and stereotypes that are beneficial to certain people. Negative propaganda creates a parallel reality in the eyes of people, which has its own system of values, beliefs and views. Such propaganda easily affects people without critical thinking and with high suggestibility. This allows a narrow group of people to manage a huge mass of people and act in the interests of this very group.
The specific sayings or modes of presentation that constitute propaganda are legion. The common element in them is an appeal to emotion rather than to logic. Truth or fact, logically presented, might stir the emotions—but a presentation manifestly intended to stir the emotions demeans the information being presented. Of course, if the information is false to begin with, then propagandistic methods might be the only methods that would serve.
Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell.
Though all things foul would wear the look of grace,
Yet grace must still look so.
- Macbeth IV.iii.
Propaganda typically takes any of these forms, or a combination of them:
- Name calling. This is the crudest and least savory form of argumentum ad hominem. It consists of labeling the other cause, or a generic or particular adherent of that cause, with a noun or adjective having a decidedly negative "buzz" or "charge." Name-calling is also a part of the genetic fallacy of endorsing, or casting doubt upon, a proposition merely by calling attention to its source, when the nature of the source does not bear on the truth value of the propositions that come from that source.
- Half-truths, or lies of omission, in which facts which support the distributor are spread while deliberately neglecting facts which would pose difficulty.
- Testimonials. This is a form of argumentum ab auctoritate. A "celebrity endorsement" is a prime example. So, too, is any speech or essay by one publicly celebrated as an athlete, actor in any form of theater, or other such person, on a subject in which the author has no legitimate expertise.
- Loaded questions.
- Distortions of fact.
- Extreme pronouncements, which are a form of over-generalizations.
- Intimidation. This may include arguing from the numbers or reminding an opponent of the power of the particular individual or group engaging in the intimidation—or of an individual or group for which one claims to speak.
- Using abridged or out-of-context quotes to give a false impression, aka Quote mining.
- Sayings that, however factual, fall outside the scope or even off the topic at hand. A lawyer would say that such facts are "incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial"—because they do not serve to advance a logical argument, are not properly related to the case at hand, and do not matter.
- Outright lies. Dr. Josef Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda for Adolf Hitler, famously observed that if one tells a lie loudly enough and often enough, people will believe it rather than believe that anyone could lie so outrageously.
- Personal attacks. This method of propaganda often involves spreading malicious rumors and misinformation about other people. The goal of such attacks is to undermine the character of the person in order to gain the upper hand. Name-calling and intimidation are often used in concurrence with this.
Sam Garrens uses 8 identifiers to analyze statements which can stand alone or be used in combination with each other. Garrens claims once these methods are mastered, propaganda is forever easy to spot:
- Unrelated items
- Opinion leader or expert
- Missing context
- Obfuscation and simulation
- Gaslighting or assumed conclusions
- Shaming language and insults, using words that end in 'ist', 'ite', or 'phobe' augmented by 'gush' (or emotion) and outrage
- Lies and demonization
- Propaganda payload, the moral of the story
Uses of propaganda in society today
Former president Woodrow Wilson is known his use of deceitful political propaganda in the United States, techniques first used by organizations such as the Committee on Public Information, during the progressive-era in the early 1900s. Today, propaganda has become the favorite method of politics. Both politicians and the commentators that support them routinely engage in it. The most egregious example of modern propaganda can probably be found in the films of Michael Moore, which present a classic combination of factual fabrication, distorted interpretation, and emotional dishonesty. On television, Countdown with Keith Olbermann provides a nightly dose of mean-spirited, irrational invective. Journalists have also contributed, forming groups such as the JournoList. The vicious and frivolous tone of so much modern propaganda has contributed, especially in the United States, to a coarsening of civil discourse and, some say, a severe weakening of civility.
In addition to civility, the idea of truth suffers from the habitual use of propaganda. Current-events organs that willfully publish propagandistic content not only contribute to the problem, but also demean themselves. In one famous example (Rathergate), a television broadcast network circulated for weeks certain memoranda, the contents of which were damaging to the incumbent President of the United States (George W. Bush), though those who obtained those memoranda knew, or ought to have known, that they were forgeries.
Theater has been an instrument of propaganda since before such things as current-events organs existed. Significantly, however, whenever theater has lent itself to propaganda, it has tended to demean itself. Even William Shakespeare was not immune to this - certain of his Histories, especially Richard the Third acted as propaganda for the ruling Tudor dynasty whose founder, Henry VII, had defeated Richard III to become king.
The best contrary testimony against propaganda is the truth. This typically means revealing the full, previously undisclosed context and exposing logical fallacies. Confusingly though, skillfully produced propaganda may itself be masked as counter-propaganda.
Beyond this, it includes discernment of news organs that allow themselves to be utilized for propaganda purposes, discernment of propagandistic theater projects and refusal to patronize the same, and discernment of the content of political commentary, and its judgment, not merely on matters of fact, but also on the presentation of that fact. As has been said above, presentation even of perfectly relevant fact in a manner intended to manipulate the emotions, demeans the facts thus presented and also demeans the presenter. Above all, therefore, those who decry propaganda ought not engage in it themselves, nor give even the appearance of the same.
Propaganda in times of war or other kinds of military operations. It can be divided into the following types:
Propaganda of captivity. One of the most popular and effective types of military propaganda in the framework of psychological warfare. It includes providing information about prisoners of war, their normal existence, lack of bullying and serious difficulties. Implementing the idea that surrender is a completely normal solution that will help you return home alive.
Propaganda of military successes. Significantly increases the morale of his army and demoralization of the enemy army. A kind of "placebo effect" – the introduction of certain thoughts and moods can really lead to the result that is stated.
Propaganda by instilling fear of defeat. Such propaganda can set up the army for the most decisive actions, since "there is nowhere to retreat." It can acquire a different character - instilling fear due to the consequences of the offensive. Such an approach can cause confusion in the army and society of the attacking side. Other ways of exposure.
War propaganda is used as a means of influencing both sides of the military conflict. An example from the Russia-Ukraine war is the recruitment of foreign mercenaries by the government of Ukraine. Mercenaries do not enjoy the status and protection of prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention, can be executed on the spot as paid killers for profit under international law, and most governments have laws in place prohibiting their citizens from engaging in mercenary activity. Three UK citizens were captured by the Russians, and two faced criminal charges and the death penalty. The third, Aiden Aslin, was somewhat of social media star with a large number of subscribers on Twitter and Instagram following his tales of adventure. In captivity, Aslin was allowed to create a YouTube channel to interact with the global public, and dissuade people from responding to Ukrainian and Western media solicitations to join Ukraine's mercenary force.
NATO war in Ukraine
- See also: NATO war in Ukraine
From the earliest days of the conflict, the Kyiv regime focused on winning a global information and propaganda war rather than a military conflict. Researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia published a landmark paper on August 20, 2022 on the activities of bot accounts on Twitter related to the conflict. The Australian findings were staggering – of 5.2 million tweets on the social media network from February 23 to March 8, 2022 at the outbreak of the conflict, between 60 to 80% were shared by fake accounts.
Reverse psychology was employed for the first year of the conflict, reporting Ukraine's staggering losses, in excess of 100,000 killed, as Russian losses. This conditioned Western media consumers to believe support for the war was accomplishing its goals, lessening the shock impact of being lied to and the horrors of war when it became apparent that the numbers were real, only the belligerent parties to whom the atrocities and casualty rates were attributed had been reversed.
Virtually all mainstream media reporting was reversed: Ukrainian war crimes, atrocities, killing of civilians, casualty rates, and troops killed in action were reported, however universally attributed by the controlled media of the West as being Russian war crimes and casualty rates, and not Ukrainian. This avoided the need to invent stories out of whole cloth to gin up anti-Russian propaganda cause no one could deny these events happened or deaths occurred. All Western reporting was sanitized in Kyiv through the CIA, which shared office space in SBU headquarters. Nothing made it out of Kyiv for global MSM distribution without passing through regime and NATO information experts first.
See also: Soft power
Soft power is a nation's capacity to cause others to do things through persuasive/non-coercive means. The American political scientist Joseph Nye introduced the concept of "soft power" in the late 1980s.
Brand Finance, the world's leading brand valuation consultancy, annually list the countries with the strongest soft power.
Brand Finance's 2022 ranking of the countries with the most soft power
Brand Finance's 2022 ranking of the 10 countries with the most soft power:
- United States
- United Kingdom
- Psychological warfare
- Media intelligence complex
- Michael Moore
- Keith Olbermann
- Bill Maher
- List of Communist publications
- Logical fallacy
- Cult of personality
- List of military strategies and concepts
- Operation Infektion
- Putin propaganda
- Virkler, Henry A. (1993). A Christian's Guide to Critical Thinking. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 183–4. ISBN 978-15975-26616.
- Glenn talks with Jonah Goldberg, author of Liberal Fascism, The Glenn Beck Program, January 15, 2008.
- Journolist Follows the Footsteps of Woodrow Wilson's Propagandists, Fox News, July 22, 2010.
- Glenn Beck: Obama Zombies, The Glenn Beck Program, February 4, 2010.
- Progressives' Fight for American Hearts and Minds, Fox News, May 27, 2010.
- 'This will not help us defeat the enemy' A new report looks at Ukrainian Ombudsman Lyudmyla Denisova, who was fired after officials couldn't confirm her stories of rape committed by Russian soldiers (en) (28 June 2022).
- Global Soft Power Index 2022: USA bounces back better to top of nation brand ranking, Brand Finance website, 2022
- Propaganda in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
- Propaganda Tactics at "The Baloney Detector" at Creation-Evolution Headlines