Propaganda (© creative soul / Fotolia.com)
Propaganda (© creative soul / Fotolia.com)

Propaganda is a concept that is well known by the populace, but not everyone realizes just how pervasive and destructive it is. Although there are minor examples of how propaganda can be used in a positive way, most of the time, propaganda is definitely a bad idea. In this article, we will be exploring the term completely as well as the history and the meaning behind it.

What is Propaganda?

Defining propaganda definitely has to be the first step in understanding. Most people are aware of propaganda when they hear of it, but having a clear definition will definitely help. Propaganda is information that is distributed with an agenda. Much of the time, this information is selectively chosen so that the person receiving it will draw a specific conclusion. For example, the tobacco companies spent a great deal of their money and time on propaganda advertising until the health risks of smoking became so prevalent that there propaganda was no longer effective.

Abstract Examples of Propaganda

In order to understand propaganda more completely, let’s take a look at some abstract examples of what propaganda could be, and then later on we will look at some actual beliefs the most people hold that are the result of propaganda throughout history. This should give you a good grasp on the subject matter and help you to recognize propaganda when it comes along.

An example of propaganda might be a news organization that is biased towards one particular political party. For example, some of the television networks have been known to slant their coverage in favor of the political party that they advocate. We will not go into which networks do this, or which political party they are in favor of, but most people are familiar with how it works. These news organizations may only report stories that are positive to their political party, or they may leave out information that would be damaging to that party.

Another example of this is companies – particularly pharmaceutical companies – that are trying to promote a new drug, or perhaps an herbal supplement. These companies will sponsor a number of research studies, and then handpick only one or two of them that show positive results – possibly do to an error in the way that the study was conducted. They will not release the results of the dozen or so studies that prove that their drug had side effects or was not effective at all. This is a common practice among pharmaceutical companies.

Propaganda is also quite prevalent in foreign countries that are ruled by dictators. Even today, if you watch documentaries such as the one on CNN where reporter went to North Korea to speak with the people there, you will see that propaganda is alive and well. North Korea is an example of one of the most pervasive forms of propaganda – government-sponsored propaganda. Hate filled content regarding the United States is being broadcast on the only media channels that North Korean citizens get access to, making them think that the United States is dead set on their total destruction.

Finally, an example of propaganda might be a company that has received a great deal of negative media coverage over a specific product or service that they offer. On their press page, instead of offering all of the various press clippings that mention them, as users expect to see, they will only publish the positive ones and will pretend like the -ones do not exist. In fact, many companies actively try to get negative stories about them taken down. These are just a few examples; there are lots of others out there that you probably can think of yourself.

The History of Propaganda

Now, let’s take a look at the history of propaganda. The history of propaganda is really the history of the human race, because propaganda has been around as long as people have been able to conceive of it. However, most historians view the earliest example of recorded propaganda the Behistun Inscription, which was written around 500 BC. In addition, the Roman civil wars in the writings that went with them between Mark Anthony and Octavian are both early examples of propaganda. These records are full of water probably historical inaccuracies, detailing each party as drunkards, cowards, incompetence and guilty of debauchery, along with other sins.

When the printing press came along in the Middle Ages, propaganda was definitely alive during the Reformation. This is especially true within Germany. New ideas and thoughts were made available to the public, centered on specific views from the people behind the publications. These ideas were not widespread prior to the 16th century. If you want an example that is closer to home, during the American Revolution, the newspapers and printers were either loyal to the colonies or the loyalists and their publications were full of propaganda against the other party.

Obviously, the 20th century was full of propaganda, particularly during the 1930s and 1940s when Hitler came to power. Hitler was able to use hateful propaganda to turn the German people against the Jews. In addition, British propaganda against the Germans may have been responsible for some of their defeats. At least, Hitler believed so. This is one of the few examples of where propaganda has been used in a positive way.

In the former Soviet Union, motion pictures were used to spread propaganda. These motion pictures were a powerful tool for spreading the message of political and military ideals to the general public – because so many people went and saw motion pictures. However, with the division of the news networks, newspapers and all of the various online forums and websites that are out there; today may indeed be the golden age of propaganda.

Beliefs Due to Propaganda

Now, we are going to take a look at some of the beliefs that are widespread today due to propaganda. You may be surprised that you yourself hold these beliefs, and you may be even more surprised to find that they are false, and only in existence in people’s minds today because of specifically targeted propaganda.

You may have heard of type A and type B personalities. Most people believe that this is a fact of psychology. Type A personalities are aggressive and are the alpha males of our society. Type B personalities are more submissive. But did you know that this is total crap? Type A and type B personalities are a construct of the tobacco companies and the propaganda that they were putting out during the early and middle part of the 20th century.

You have probably also heard of the Spanish flu. But the Spanish flu did not originate in Spain. In fact, Spain had no claim to fame on that particular flu whatsoever. They just happen to be the first to report it, because the other countries were so embroiled in the war and they did not want to report negative news. This is exactly what propaganda is. These countries did not report the flu that was 25 times more deadly than any other flu in existence. Spain was neutral during this conflict, so they reported the flu, and it became known forever after in history as the Spanish flu.

You might also have heard of the teddy bear, and known that it was based on Theodore Roosevelt. But the whole history behind this is somewhat convoluted because the teddy bear marketing plan actually came as a result of the legend that Theodore Roosevelt once refused to kill a bear and spared its life. While it is true that Roosevelt did not kill the bear himself, he did order those that were working for him to kill the bear and his entire party feasted on it for the next few days. Of course, a political cartoon depicting his sparing of the bear now has spawned an entire industry of plush toys.

Why Propaganda is a Bad Idea

It may seem like an obvious question, but some people may be wondering why propaganda is such a bad idea. The reality is, even when propaganda is backed by good intentions, people are not getting the facts. If you present a plan view and you only show evidence that support your point of view, or you write the information in such a way that makes people form an opinion one way or the other, then you are guilty of spreading propaganda.

Historically, the news media has been a neutral party in the propaganda war. At least, that is the way that media was originally designed to work. Reporters were supposed to report the facts, without any sort of bias – except in editorials. But that is no longer the way that the news media works. Today, you can find bias in almost every newscast or news report that you read. In fact, pretty much the only neutral newscasting that is left today is the local 6 o’clock news that is available in almost every city and town in the United States. These newscasts are often free of bias and only report the facts. But if you tune into a national news station – particularly cable news – then you will find a great deal of bias in every news story that they read.

Of course, none of this is to say that propaganda is evil. The way that it is used can sometimes be evil, but the truth is that everyone spreads their own form of propaganda. Every human being on earth is tainted by their own opinions and when they speak to others, everything that they say, write and exude is full of propaganda. There is not much that anyone can do about this, but the main thing to keep in mind is that propaganda exists and you need to be looking for it if you want to get the facts. Most of the time, you can read between the lines and figure out what the truth is even when information is being presented with an agenda.

Propaganda Methods

Now, we will take a look at some of the propaganda methods that are out there. These are the most commonly used propaganda methods, and you will recognize many of them as being in use today. Although there may be others, this covers the majority of the propaganda that is out there.

Jumping on the bandwagon: the first propaganda method that we will be discussing is jumping on the bandwagon; if you can convince a group of people that everyone is doing it, they will be compelled to do it as well; it doesn’t really matter what “it” is; people want to do what everyone else is doing. Very few people are willing to follow their own path.

Personal attacks: the next propaganda method is attacking someone personally. If you can assassinate someone’s character, then you will be able to overcome them in the public eye. Even if the things that you say are not true, there are still going to be people that believe them simply because they were reported in the media. This is a common technique among political opponents.

Stacking the deck: we have already discussed this to a certain extent here; stacking the deck simply means only giving out the information that will benefit your particular cause; if you give people information that leads them to only one conclusion, then most of them are going to draw that conclusion.

Giant lies: one of the techniques that is often used in propaganda is the giant lie. A giant lie is something that is absolutely, totally false, but it is so huge that no one believes that it could possibly be a lie because it is so big.

Generalizations: one form of propaganda is to use generalizations and everything that you do, which doesn’t actually establish a position or give people a point from which to judge you.

Information management: this is somewhat similar to stacking the deck. If you control the information, then you are able to control public perception based upon the way that you deliver the information – or in the case of stacking the deck – based upon the information that you deliver.

One of you: one of the ways that affective propaganda is used is by making someone believe that a political candidate or another person being lauded in the propaganda shares the same values or believes the same things as the group of people being courted.

Slogans and catchphrases: another way the propaganda spread is by the use of catchphrases and slogans. While catchphrases and slogans by themselves may not be harmful, when they are used to spread propaganda they definitely are. These can be quite powerful, as they are designed to make people remember them for a long time to come.

Stereotypical: one of the ways that propaganda is often spread is by showing the other party in some sort of way that makes people believe stereotypes. There are a lot of stereotypes out there, and we are not going to go into them here, but when you make people see someone as a stereotype instead of a person, then you are spreading propaganda.

False testimonials: this can be used under information management or stacking the deck, but the bottom line is that one party uses testimonials in such a way as to make them seem more trustworthy or to make the other party seemed less trustworthy. This can be done either by soliciting particular testimonials that fit their cause, or by failing to publish or acknowledge testimonials that do not.

Creating a likeness: another effective method of propaganda is by creating a likeness of someone who is seeking election or some other approval to some respected person alive or dead; for example, Gandhi was a very respected person across the entire world, as well as Mother Teresa; creating a likeness of someone seeking power to either of these people would be a form of propaganda if the person did not actually share the attributes that were being promoted.

Summary

The term propaganda simply means a message with an agenda. Propaganda has been used since recorded history and has made us believe some pretty strange things, including the fact that they are only A and B personalities, even though such a belief has no basis in science.

Propaganda is a bad idea for several reasons. The main thing is that it does not give people all of the information that they need to make a decision. People should be able to make a decision based upon all the facts. There are also a dozen or so different widely used methods of propaganda. They include jumping on the bandwagon, information management, slogans and catchphrases, generalizations, stacking the deck, giant lies, false testimonials, stereotypes and many more. When propaganda is used, it can be extremely destructive and definitely does not fit the ideals that we believe in in this country. More and more, propaganda is being used instead of facts and that is bad for everyone.


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