10 insights on Propaganda
- Definition of Propaganda: What Propaganda was and what it is now
The first major insight/topic I learned in this class is what propaganda truly was and how it was defined. I believe this is one of the most important things we learned because it set a foundation of what was to come and how often propaganda is used. While, still giving us definitions from different time periods and how propaganda has evolved throughout those time periods. I always had a general understanding of propaganda but never dove into it head first like we did in this course. I’ve learned that throughout history the definition of propaganda has evolved depending on the world around it. There’s so many different forms of propaganda that have emerged throughout history. First though let’s talk about the origin of propaganda and it’s many different elements. It originated in the seventeenth- century Roman Catholic church with the commision set up by the cardinals of the church for the catholic faith. Propaganda mainly is about influencing an audience to agree with a certain opinion. But there’s also emotional and intellectual appeal of propaganda. In our first week in class we were provided examples of propaganda the first being from the 1920s “There are two quite different evils about propaganda as now practiced. On the one hand, its appeal is generally to irrational causes of belief rather than to serious argument; on the other hand, it gives an unfair advantage to those who can obtain most publicity, whether through wealth or through power” (p. 35). Bertrand Russell. “Free Thought and Official Propaganda” (1922 Conway Memorial Lecture). In Let the People Think: A Selection of Essays. London: Watts, 1941. This definition stood out to me because it outlined the two different evils that come from propaganda. And it also says “whether through wealth or through power.” Meaning to obtain propaganda and use it as a weapon of sorts you needed to be rich and powerful which is still true to this day. Then jump to the 1950’s definition or thought of propaganda and they begin to include the thought of propaganda in pictures and in music. “Propaganda in the broadest sense is the technique of influencing human action by the manipulation of representations. These representations may take spoken, written, pictorial or musical form.” Harold D. Lasswell. “Propaganda.” In International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Vols. 11–12. New York: Macmillan, 1950, pp. 521–522. Now in the 50’s they are seeing propaganda in representations that include pictorial, and musical form. We then move to the 1980s where propaganda is defined mainly about power to as I see it. ““[Propaganda is] the systematic propagation of information or ideas by an interested party, especially in a tendentious way in order to encourage or instil a particular attitude or response.” Terrence H. Qualter. Opinion Control in the Democracies. London: Macmillan, 1985, 124.” By, it saying a “systematic propagation” I think it’s powerful that propaganda is used as a systematic approach to create or instil an attitude or a response to a person or group of people. Lastly, we have the definition of propaganda from the 90s until today. ““Modern political propaganda can be defined as the deliberate attempt to influence the opinions
of an audience through the transmission of ideas and values for the specific purpose, consciously designed to serve the interest of the propagandists and their political masters, either directly or indirectly.” David Welch. “Powers of Persuasion.” History Today 49 (August 1999): 24–26. I would say this is the definition that I could must relate too when thinking of propaganda before taking this course. I actually answered the question from the first week which was “Which elements of these definitions of propaganda seem most relevant and important to you?” My answer was “The most relevant definition I read was “Modern political propaganda can be defined as the deliberate attempt to influence the opinions of an audience through the transmission of ideas and values for the specific purpose, consciously designed to serve the interest of the propagandists and their political masters, either directly or indirectly.” David Welch. “Powers of Persuasion.” History Today 49 (August 1999): 24–26.” This was twenty years ago now but I still feel like it translates perfectly to our world today. The part where it says a “deliberate attempt to influence the opinions of an audience.” Is what specifically stood out to me the most because it clearly defines that propaganda is done on purpose in order to help ones interests which it also says at the end. To me, this means propaganda is a very useful weapon in getting what you want.” This was my first reaction to propaganda and I still feel that it holds true today. This is what I think of when I think of propaganda because it is the most relevant definition. But, throughout the course I have learned different techniques people use in propaganda and how propaganda is displayed widely across the world in politics,media, entertainment, etc.
Another aspect of the first week is the use of propaganda as a weapon. After reading “A Retrospective on Early Studies of Propaganda” we were asked to answer why research in propaganda studies declined after WW2? The answer I gave was “Research propaganda studies declined after World War II because there was a shift in scientific interest. Meaning, they were studying “social scientific research methods” rather than propaganda. They shifted to focusing on the individual compared to what the government or media was telling them. They wanted to study why propaganda worked on certain individuals more than studying the propaganda itself.” This meant that the focus shifted away from a focus on the sender and now more towards the receiver. Which, I believe is a major factor in how propaganda is used today. It is so much more focused on the receiver than the sender. Although, the receivers should really focus on the sender to be able to analyze who is creating this propaganda and what is their motive for creating it. Because, like we have learned there is always a motive. I also think this is extremely relevant to my life in the future. It helped me to learn that everyone has a motive. Everyone wants something from you and has a reason for wanting it and they may go about it a different way but I always have to stop and think to myself “why does this person want me to do this and what am I gaining out of it?” I think this is huge for my career and how I think while in the world of business and sales.
2. Origins of Propaganda: Where it all began and Edward L. Bernays
I feel the origins of propaganda and Edward L. Bernays book “”Propaganda” has to be mentioned as one of the key insights into what I have learned about propaganda and what we have studied throughout the course as a whole. He talks about so many different aspects of Propaganda that were involved in many of the ideas and topics we discussed and learned about throughout the course. Some of the main chapters of his book that we were asked to think about questions while reading were titled “ Organizing Chaos, The New Propaganda, The New Propagandists, The Psychology of Public Relations, Business and the Public, and The Mechanics of Propaganda.” We were asked to answer one of the questions Professor Hobbs asked and I chose “Chapter 2 question 2: What does Bernays mean when he asserts that the masses possess “rubber stamps,” rather than independent minds? How do the masses tend to think and make decisions?” My answer to that question was “Bernays means that the purpose for people to be able to read and write was to be able to create original thoughts. But instead they all possessed “rubber stamps” which basically meant they all were saying the same thing and nothing was original. For everything one person wrote a million other people wrote the same thing. Masses tend to make decisions in groups. So whatever information was fed to them from the few people that were leaders of them they believed and spread.” I stand by my answer to this question and I think this question and the answer that Bernays gives in his book is very intriguing. I think this idea of people making decisions in groups is still true to this day and it is led by propaganda mainly through the media and social media in particular. For example, there were millions of mems how airpods made you cool for having. It is the belief that they show you have money. I have provided one of these examples below:
This meme is a pretty basic one but it shows the main point that people were spreading that if you have airpods your rich and if you don’t then you are broke. This was obviously propaganda but whether or not apple put it out there it helped them because not only did it provide free marketing but it also led to an increase in Airpod sales and online traffic about Airpods. The image above shows the interest trend of “Airpods” and in specific “Airpod Flexing”. This is an example of how fads start and how people make decisions on things in masses like Bernays talks about. It also makes you think where did this first come from? Was apple the ones to first create this meme? It is also so crazy that this book was written in the 20s yet is still completely relevant today and speaks to what kind of weapon propaganda has been for so long.
3. Resilience in the Face of Propaganda: 7 Propaganda devices
This learning insight was titled the “Resilience in the Face of Propaganda” but what I gained from it the most were the 7 different propaganda devices. These devices were laid out in the reading we had to do titled “ Authorship and Origins of the Seven Propaganda Devices: A Research Note” by J. Michael Sproule. The seven devices are as follows: 1. Name Calling- “The propagandist conjures hate or fear by attaching unattractive labels to those individuals,groups,nations,races, etc.” This is a pretty self-explanatory device. It is basic and to the point and is widely used when one group or party is trying to diminish another one. It is relatively easy to spot out.
2. Glittering Generalities- “The propagandist associates his or her program with virtue words.” These virtue words include “truth,freedom, honor,etc.” These words are meant to play on people’s emotions and think what they are doing or being told to do is the right thing and will bring you freedom and the truth and honor.
3. Transfer- the most important part about transfer is that the propagandist carries over prestige and authority to the audience he is trying to persuade. This causes the audience to accept what the propagandist is saying because they believe the authority that the figure is transferring.
4. Testimonial- “The propagandist links an idea or program to some specific, favored person or institution.” This can be seen everywhere such as celebrities in commercials advertising a product and maybe even saying they use it this way people associate the product with the celebrity.
5. Plain Folk- This is the exact opposite of the testimonial and people present themselves as an “average joe” just like you and me. It causes people to think that person is an equal to them so they must want the same as them although this isn’t true.
6. Card Stacking- “The propagandist uses an overemphasis or underemphasis to put a calculated spin on his or her ideas or proposals.” This is a advanced form of propaganda that uses how propaganda is presented to create a spin on it.
7. Band Wagon- This is when the propagandist is trying to get the crowd all together to join in and follow. This goes back to masses making decisions in groups.
All of these devices are important in analyzing propaganda because each one of these devices can be used. It is important for the future because I am now better equipped to not only recognize propaganda but to also see what kind of device the propaganda is using. It is a critical skill for the future and to make sure I do my due diligence for what information is presented to me.
4. Fake News, Conspiracy Theories, and Disinformation: What are they hiding?
This was one of my favorite topics we studied all year. I love conspiracy theories and have watched countless youtube videos and read many articles that dive into the world of conspiracy theories. From UFO’s to 9/11 and everything in between. There are many conspiracy theories out there but after studying this topic it has become easier to see what propaganda is being used for the most part in a conspiracy theory. The next major part of this topic was fake news. This is extremely relevant and we see it every day, especially coming from our President along with disinformation. The game we had to play called BAD NEWS was a really interesting way in seeing how easily disinformation can be spread and how fake accounts can be created to spread disinformation. It was fun and interesting to go through the game and see how many followers you could get, how much they believed from you, and how much you could spread. It was an extremely interactive and hands on game that was extremely eye-opening in the world we live today and how social media can help spread propaganda so easily from accounts that we think may be credible. But in many cases they have no credibility at all. We looked at conspiracy theories through the article titled “Conspiracy Theories as a Russian Public Diplomacy Tool: The Case of Russia Today.” It discussed how “news agenda as a specific tool of Russian public diplomacy aimed at undermining the policies of the US government and, in turn, defending Russia’s actions.” Also, conspiracy theories caused this media outlet to be less replicable because of what it was putting out and not factual news. This leads me to fake news. Fake news is huge in the United States right now and is one of our Presidents most used and favorite phrases. An example of how the President has been using this phrase is shown below:
This is a typical tweet from Trump using the phrase “fake news” but this time he is specifically calling out many reputable news and media outlets calling them all fake news. To be noted, he left out Fox News this is clear he is using propaganda to get people to watch Fox News and push their agenda which is mainly pro-Trump. This was a great topic to study throughout the semester because we see it everyday. And something that I learned is that it has been around for quite some time. I only first heard it around the 2016 election and now I’ve learned it’s been a prominent form of propaganda for a long time.
5. Sponsored Content: Instagram Stars
This was a relevant topic today and quite candidly a funny one. Almost everybody my age has an instagram and has seen instagram models or people on instagram posting advertisements for skincare and other products. What was funny is that we watched a video that showed how Instagram models and were using faking sponsored content. The more sponsored content the more money you make and followers you have and these people were making up their sponsored content. This was eye-opening to me because I didn’t realize that people could do this and make it look so real and get away with it. I learned this through watching the videos and reading the articles that were posted. This will help me going forward because I won’t give the credibility to every person I see with sponsored content. You really have to do the research and a little bit of detective work to see if these people are legit. Because you don’t want to fall in the trap of buying fake products from people. This is a major learning point because we see these types of posts on instagram every single day and people trying to sell these products. It makes you really wonder what people and products you can actually trust.
6. Virality: Kony 2012
This was a nostalgic topic to learn about because when learning about virality Kony 2012 was one of the major examples that was used. I remember this coming back out in High School and how much it blew up and went viral. I actually had to do a project about it in school and to learn about the virality of it again in college really made it come full circle. I think this was one of the most important topics from the course because so many videos go viral now since everyone has iphones and there’s so many prevalent social media sites. Although, there are many viral videos out there now none were quite like Kony 2012, it is an extremely effective use of propaganda more than most viral videos. It was extremely unique in how it was able to catch your attention with facts such as “more people are using a website than were on the Earth 200 years ago.” It originally led to a good cause to stop a warlord Joseph Kony. It showed how propaganda and the right kind of words and phrases can lead to real action. The video does such a great job of catching your attention it causes you to want to do some. It even led to celebrities supporting the cause which ultimately led support being sent to Uganda to help the children. It was fun and interesting to dive deeper into this and look at it in ways I never had before.
7. Chomsky and the Propaganda Model
The propaganda model was an important topic we studied in this course. The main point that was important for me to learn was based around the question that was asked. That question was “Is Chomsky’s propaganda model outdated in the age of social media where traditional filters have been removed? Why or why not?” I answered this question saying “Chomsky’s model is still relevant. As we have seen through history at its core propaganda is propaganda with just different ways of producing the propaganda changing throughout time. The main reason that his model is still relevant is because corporations and the government are still feeding the media what they want to feed them. The public perception is shaped how the large corporations want it to be.” It was important because it showed how major corporations and their greed and their use of propaganda hasn’t changed. They are still doing this and have been throughout history. Hopefully we can continue to learn and adapt but this was eye-opening to see because it makes me more aware of the intentions of these corporations and how they feed the media the narrative they want the people to believe.
8. Networked Propaganda
The assignment that helped me learn and think the most about this topic was simply an assignment asking to read and research for examples of partisan propaganda. Networked partisan propaganda includes “ a potent mix of verifiable facts, familiar repeated falsehoods, paranoid logic, and consistent political orientation within a mutually-reinforcing network of like-minded sites.” An example that I found of this in the article titled “Breitbart-led right wing media ecosystem altered broader media agenda. Columbia Journalism Review.” by Benkler, Y., Faris, R. Roberts, H. & Zuckerman, E. was “ “While mainstream media coverage was often critical, it nonetheless revolved around the agenda that the right-wing media sphere set: immigration. Right-wing media, in turn, framed immigration in terms of terror, crime, and Islam, as a review of Breitbart and other right-wing media stories about immigration most widely shared on social media exhibits. Immigration is the key topic around which Trump and Breitbart found common cause; just as Trump made this a focal point for his campaign, Breitbart devoted disproportionate attention to the topic.” This focuses on paranoid logic and a mutually-reinforcing network of like-minded sites. It was a great article that showed network propaganda in the mainstream news and the quote I showed encompassed that.
9. Terrorism as Propaganda: Propaganda and Social Media as a Weapon
Propaganda is well known as a weapon that can be used to influence people’s opinions and views and now it is being used by terrorist groups to recruit and spread disinformation on social media and across multiple platforms. Social media has been a major way these groups and people have spread propaganda and disturbing videos. Such as, the Mosque shooting in New Zealand. It is a major topic in the world right now about how we are going to monitor and limit the spread of hate and terrorism across social media platforms. Many countries have tasks forces dedicated to stopping this but it’s easier said than done. We have to find a way to limit the spread of terrorism across social media. ISIS in particular has used networking through social media and propaganda to recruit people. It’s scary to see that video of ISIS using english to recruit western people with their propaganda.
10. Entertainment propaganda
Propaganda in entertainment spreads across movies, music, television, and literature. It is seen everywhere whether it is political or not. One, of the major pieces of pro United States propaganda is from the movie “American Sniper”. I actually read the book as well that is based on a true story of a Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and his time in the war. It was an incredible story and I have so much respect for him but the movie is portraying certain things that didn’t actually happen in order to boost the story. It is a typical form of propaganda that Hollywood uses in order to boost the story and make it better. Although, I think if they stick to the truth it is even a better story. That’s just one current example but this goes all the way back to war bonds during WW2 and other ideas like that. Large corporations will use entertainment and celebrities to drive their motive and their propaganda. It has been ongoing throughout history and continues to go on now but in just different forms of media and entertainment.
Benkler, Y., Faris, R. Roberts, H. & Zuckerman, E. (2017, March 3). Study: Breitbart-led right wing media ecosystem altered broader media agenda. Columbia Journalism Review.
Bertrand Russell. “Free Thought and Official Propaganda” (1922 Conway Memorial Lecture). In Let the People Think: A Selection of Essays. London: Watts, 1941.
Conspiracy Theories as a Russian Public Diplomacy Tool: The Case of Russia Today (RT) Ilya Yablokov
David Welch. “Powers of Persuasion.” History Today 49 (August 1999): 24–26.
Harold D. Lasswell. “Propaganda.” In International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. Vols. 11–12. New York: Macmillan, 1950, pp. 521–522.