Propaganda and censorship are nothing new, but the art, science and motives have evolved tremendously in the past decade. Freedom of speech isn’t what it used to be.
Propaganda is a form of communication aimed towards influencing the attitude of a population toward some cause, position or movement. It’s a common thread between marketing, public relations, and public affairs.
During the 20th century, there was plenty of public discourse about propaganda. Unfortunately, in recent years, the study of propaganda has diminished in many educational settings. Meanwhile, we’re surrounded by more messages than ever with near-constant exposure to advertising, news, and mobile media. With so many messages coming from so many forms and channels, it’s difficult to recognize the various forms of propaganda.
“Propaganda is a form of information that panders to our insecurities and anxieties,” Jacques Ellul
“Propaganda is indifferent to truth and truthfulness, knowledge and understanding; it is a form of strategic communication that uses any means to accomplish its ends,” Walter Cunningham.
“Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist,” said Garth Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell.
Propaganda is a form of purposeful persuasion that attempts to influence the emotions, attitudes, opinions, and actions of specified target audiences for ideological, political or commercial purposes through the controlled transmission of one-sided messages (which may or may not be factual) via mass and direct media channels,” Richard Alan Nelson
“Propaganda is intentionally-designed communication that invites us to respond emotionally, immediately, and in a either-or manner,” said Neil Postman.
Everyone participates in the process of persuasion. But the term propaganda is generally used when someone is aiming to reach a large group of people, not just a few.
As an activist, you may have created propaganda yourself. People who create propaganda have a specific goal and design a communication message that is intended to circulate among a large group of people and create a reaction. Propaganda involves reinforcing existing beliefs, changing perceptions, activating an emotional response or provoking a behavior.
Today, social media makes it easy for ordinary individuals to create and disseminate propaganda. Of course, communication is always oriented to a specific goal or purpose, as people use symbols to build relationships, convey information, entertain, inspire or teach. But the propagandist does not aim to encourage deliberation or reflection. The propagandist does not encourage independent judgment by presenting a variety of viewpoints and allowing the audience to determine which perspective is correct. Instead, the propagandist uses facts and information selectively, transmitting only those ideas that help accomplish the goal.
Today people might feel overwhelmed by all the media in our lives, which can lead to a “tuning-out” phenomenon where we are exposed to propaganda but do not actively recognize how it is influencing our emotions, attitudes, knowledge and behavior. Critical thinking about propaganda and understanding propaganda’s intent are crucial responsibilities of citizenship in the twenty-first century. Entering into a discussion about contemporary propaganda invites us to think about the power of communication and our responsibilities as authors and audiences. It raises questions about the use and potential impact of new media and technologies.
Propaganda is not the same as brainwashing or mind control. These terms refer to psychological tactics, sometimes used in warfare, that are designed to subvert an individual’s sense of control over their own thinking. Brainwashing usually requires isolation of the individual from his or her social group. By contrast, propaganda is often so ordinary that it becomes enmeshed with “common sense.”
Although propaganda sometimes involves deception, most forms of propaganda use well-verified, factual information. Propagandists may use partially true or incomplete information that comes from a source that looks authentic, but is controlled by sources that are disguised. These disguises come in many forms. Businesses often provide funding to sources (like researchers and other professional communicators) to create information and transmit messages that align directly with their interests and goals. For example, in 2014, the government of Norway paid $5 million to a non-profit organization to produce information designed to influence top officials in the White House. Online, the term sock puppet refers to the use of online sources that are specifically created to praise, defend or support a person or organization. When such efforts mislead the public, they can be called propaganda.