2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Politics and government

Propaganda is a specific type of message presentation directly aimed at influencing the opinions or behaviour of people, rather than impartially providing information.

An appeal to one's emotions is, perhaps, the more obvious propaganda method, but there are varied other more subtle and insidious forms. A common characteristic of propaganda is volume (in the sense of a large amount). Individually propaganda functions as self-deception. Culturally it works within religions, politics, and economic entities like those that both favour and oppose globalization. Commercially it works within the (mass) market in the free market societies.

Propaganda shares techniques with advertising and public relations. In fact, advertising and public relations can be thought of as propaganda that promotes a commercial product or shapes the perception of an organization, person or brand. A number of techniques which are based on research are used to generate propaganda. Many of these same techniques can be found under logical fallacies, since propagandists use arguments that, while sometimes convincing, are not necessarily valid. A few examples are: Flag-waving, Glittering generalities, Intentional vagueness, Oversimplification, Rationalization, Red herring, Slogans, Stereotyping, Testimonial, Unstated assumption, and bandwagon.

In order to solidify the meaning of propaganda as distinct from certain types of advertising and public relations, it is helpful to mention Sheryl Tuttle Ross’s Epistemic Merit Model of propaganda. This model states that an important characteristic of propaganda is that its message has a flawed epistemology: in other words, that it is epistemically defective. "We can say that a message, M, is epistemically defective if either it is false, inappropriate, or connected to other beliefs that are inapt, misleading, or unwarranted." To consider a message's epistemology also introduces the added consideration of the context in which a message is delivered. For example, a political campaign aid that in some way alludes to local racial politics visually without making any overt statements in regard to those politics would still be considered epistemically defective and therefore might count as propaganda, even though nothing false or inflammatory was said. Since propaganda can sometimes be subtle and slippery, using the Epistemic Merit Model can aid in analysis and in personal opinion.

In the East, the term propaganda now overlaps with distinct terms like indoctrination (ideological views established by repetition rather than verification) and mass suggestion (broader strategic methods). In practice, the terms are often used synonymously. Historically, the most common use of the term propaganda started to be in the religious context of the Catholic Church and evolved to be more common in political contexts, in particular to refer to certain efforts sponsored by governments, political groups, but also often covert interests. In the early 20th century the term propaganda was also used by the founders of the nascent public relations industry to describe their activities; this usage died out around the time of World War II, as the industry started to avoid the word, given the pejorative connotation it had acquired.

Literally translated from the Latin gerundive as "things which must be disseminated," in some cultures the term is neutral or even positive, while in others the term has acquired a strong negative connotation. Its connotations can also vary over time. For example, in Portuguese and some Spanish language speaking countries, particularly in the Southern Cone, the word "propaganda" usually means the most common manipulation of information — "advertising". In English, "propaganda" was originally a neutral term used to describe the dissemination of information in favour of any given cause. During the 20th century, however, the term acquired a thoroughly negative meaning in western countries, of equalling the intentional dissemination of false, but perhaps "compelling", claims supporting or justifying nefarious political ideologies. This redefinition arose because both the Soviet Union and Germany's government under Hitler admitted explicitly to using propaganda favoring, respectively, communism and fascism, in all forms of public expression. As these ideologies were antipathetic to English-language and other western societies, the negative feelings toward them came to be projected into the word "propaganda" itself. Nowadays nobody admits doing propaganda but, on the other side, everybody accuses the opponent of using propaganda, whenever there is an opponent in question.

At the left, right, or mainstream, propaganda knows no borders; as is detailed by Roderick Hindery. Hindery further argues that debates about most social issues can be productively revisited in the context of asking "what is or is not propaganda?" Not to be overlooked is the link between propaganda, indoctrination, and terrorism/counterterrorism. Mere threats to destroy are often as socially disruptive as physical devastation itself.

U.S. propaganda poster, which warns against civilians sharing information on troop movements (National Archives)
U.S. propaganda poster, which warns against civilians sharing information on troop movements ( National Archives)


Soviet Propaganda Poster during the Great Patriotic War.  The text reads "Red Army Soldier - SAVE US!"
Soviet Propaganda Poster during the Great Patriotic War. The text reads "Red Army Soldier - SAVE US!"

In late Latin, propaganda meant "things to be propagated". In 1622, shortly after the start of the Thirty Years' War, Pope Gregory XV founded the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide ("Congregation for Propagating the Faith"), a committee of Cardinals with the duty of overseeing the propagation of Christianity by missionaries sent to non-Catholic countries. Therefore, the term itself originates with this Roman Catholic Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (sacra congregatio christiano nomini propagando or, briefly, propaganda fide), the department of the pontifical administration charged with the spread of Catholicism and with the regulation of ecclesiastical affairs in non-Catholic countries (mission territory). The actual Latin stem propagand- conveys a sense of "that which ought to be spread". Originally the term was not intended to refer to misleading information. The modern sense dates from World War I, when it evolved to the field of politics, and was not originally pejorative.

Purpose of propaganda

The aim of propaganda is to influence people's opinions or behaviors actively, rather than merely to communicate the facts about something. For example, propaganda might be used to garner either support or disapproval of a certain position, rather than to simply present the position, or to try to convince people to buy something, rather than to simply let them know there is some thing on the market. What separates propaganda from "normal" communication is in ways by which the message attempts to shape opinion or behaviour, which are often subtle and insidious among other characteristics. For example, propaganda is often presented in a way that attempts to deliberately evoke a strong emotion, especially by suggesting illogical (or non-intuitive) relationships between concepts or objects (for instance between a “good” car and an attractive woman or a sex symbol). An appeal to one's emotions is, perhaps, a more obvious, and the most common propaganda method than those utilized by some other more subtle and insidious forms. For instance, propaganda may be transmitted indirectly or implicitly, through an ostensibly fair and balanced debate or argument. This can be done to great effect in conjunction with a broadly targeted, broadcast news format. In such a setting, techniques like, " red herring", and other ploys (such as Ignoratio elenchi), are often used to divert the audience from a critical issue, while the intended message is suggested through indirect means. This sophisticated type of diversion utilizes the appearance of lively debate within, what is actually, a carefully focused spectrum, to generate and justify deliberately conceived assumptions. This technique avoids the distinctively biased appearance of one sided rhetoric, and works by presenting a contrived premise for an argument as if it were a universally accepted and obvious truth, so that the audience naturally assumes it to be correct. By maintaining the range of debate in such a way that it appears inclusive of differing points of view, so as to suggest fairness and balance, the suppositions suggested become accepted as fact. Here is such an example of a hypothetical situation in which the opposing viewpoints are supposedly represented: the hawk (see: hawkish) says, "we must stay the course", and the dove says, "The war is a disaster and a failure", to which the hawk responds, "In war things seldom go smoothly and we must not let setbacks affect our determination", the dove retorts, "setbacks are setbacks, but failures are failures." As one can see, the actual validity of the war is not discussed and is never in contention. One may naturally assume that the war was not fundamentally wrong, but just the result of miscalculation, and therefore, an error, instead of a crime. Thus, by maintaining the appearance of equitable discourse in such debates, and through continuous inculcation, such focused arguments succeed in compelling the audience to logically deduce that the presupposions of debate are unequivocal truisms of the given subject.

The method of propaganda is essential to the word's meaning as well. A message does not have to be untrue to qualify as propaganda.

In fact, the message in modern propaganda is often not blatantly untrue. But even if the message conveys only "true" information, it will generally contain partisan bias and fail to present a complete and balanced consideration of the issue. Another common characteristic of propaganda is volume (in the sense of a large amount). For example, a propagandist may seek to influence opinion by attempting to get a message heard in as many places as possible, and as often as possible. The intention of this approach is to a) reinforce an idea through repetition, and b) exclude or "drown out" any alternative ideas.

U.S. Propaganda from WWII, urging citizens to increase production. The heads that appear are those of Adolf Hitler and Hideki Tojo
U.S. Propaganda from WWII, urging citizens to increase production. The heads that appear are those of Adolf Hitler and Hideki Tojo

In English, the word "propaganda" now carries strong negative (as well as political, mainly) connotations, although it has not always done so. It was formerly common for political organizations, as it had started to be for the advertising and public relations industry, to refer to their own material as propaganda. Because of the negative connotations the word has gained, nowadays nobody admits doing propaganda but, on the other side, everybody accuses the opponent of doing propaganda, whenever there is an opponent in question. Other languages, however, do not necessarily regard the term as derogatory and hence usage may lead to misunderstanding in communications with non-native English speakers. For example, in Portuguese and some Spanish language speaking countries, particularly in the Southern Cone, the word "propaganda" usually means "advertising" (the most common manipulation of information).

Famed public relations pioneer Edward L. Bernays in his classic studies eloquently describes propaganda as the purpose of communications. In Crystallizing Public Opinion, for example, he dismisses the semantic differentiations (“Education is valuable, commendable, enlightening, instructive. Propaganda is insidious, dishonest, underhanded, misleading.”) and instead concentrates on purposes. He writes (p. 212), “Each of these nouns carries with it social and moral implications. . . . The only difference between ‘propaganda’ and ‘education,’ really, is in the point of view. The advocacy of what we believe in is education. The advocacy of what we don’t believe in is propaganda.”

The reason propaganda exists and is so widespread is because it serves various social purposes, necessary ones, often popular yet potentially corrupting. Many institutions such as media, private corporations and government itself are literally propaganda-addicts, co-dependent on each other and the fueling influence of the propaganda system that they help create and maintain. Propagandists have an advantage through knowing what they want to promote and to whom, and although they often resort to various two-way forms of communication this is done to make sure their one-sided purposes are achieved.

Types of propaganda

Propaganda shares techniques with advertising and public relations. In fact, advertising and public relations can be thought of as propaganda that promotes a commercial product or shapes the perception of an organization, person or brand, though in post-WWII usage the word "propaganda" more typically refers to political or nationalist uses of these techniques or to the promotion of a set of ideas, since the term had gained a pejorative meaning, which commercial and government entities couldn’t accept. The refusal phenomenon was eventually to be seen in politics itself by the substitution of ‘political marketing’ and other designations for ‘political propaganda’.

Propaganda also has much in common with public information campaigns by governments, which are intended to encourage or discourage certain forms of behaviour (such as wearing seat belts, not smoking, not littering and so forth). Again, the emphasis is more political in propaganda. Propaganda can take the form of leaflets, posters, TV and radio broadcasts and can also extend to any other medium.

In the case of the United States, there is also an important legal (imposed by law) distinction between advertising (a type of overt propaganda) and what the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an arm of the United States Congress, refers to as "covert propaganda."

Journalistic theory generally holds that news items should be objective, giving the reader an accurate background and analysis of the subject at hand. On the other hand, advertisements evolved from the traditional commercial advertisements to include also a new type in the form of paid articles or broadcasts disguised as news. These generally present an issue in a very subjective and often misleading light, primarily meant to persuade rather than inform. Normally they use only subtle propaganda techniques and not the more obvious ones used in traditional commercial advertisements. If the reader believes that a paid advertisement is in fact a news item, the message the advertiser is trying to communicate will be more easily "believed" or "internalized." Such advertisements are considered obvious examples of "covert" propaganda because they take on the appearance of objective information rather than the appearance of propaganda, which is misleading. Federal law specifically mandates that any advertisement appearing in the format of a news item must state that the item is in fact a paid advertisement. The Bush Administration has come under fire for allegedly producing and disseminating covert propaganda in the form of television programs, aired in the United States, which appeared to be legitimate news broadcasts and did not include any information signifying that the programs were not generated by a private-sector news source.

A series of American propaganda posters during World War II appealed to servicemen's patriotism to protect themselves from venereal disease. The text at the bottom of the poster reads, "You can't beat the Axis if you get VD".
A series of American propaganda posters during World War II appealed to servicemen's patriotism to protect themselves from venereal disease. The text at the bottom of the poster reads, "You can't beat the Axis if you get VD".

Propaganda, in a narrower use of the term, connotates deliberately false or misleading information that supports or furthers a political (but not only) cause or the interests of those with power. The propagandist seeks to change the way people understand an issue or situation for the purpose of changing their actions and expectations in ways that are desirable to the interest group. Propaganda, in this sense, serves as a corollary to censorship in which the same purpose is achieved, not by filling people's minds with approved information, but by preventing people from being confronted with opposing points of view. What sets propaganda apart from other forms of advocacy is the willingness of the propagandist to change people's understanding through deception and confusion rather than persuasion and understanding. The leaders of an organization know the information to be one sided or untrue, but this may not be true for the rank and file members who help to disseminate the propaganda.

More in line with the religious roots of the term, it is also used widely in the debates about new religious movements (NRMs), both by people who defend them and by people who oppose them. The latter pejoratively call these NRMs cults. Anti-cult activists and countercult activists accuse the leaders of what they consider cults of using propaganda extensively to recruit followers and keep them. Some social scientists, such as the late Jeffrey Hadden, and CESNUR affiliated scholars accuse ex-members of "cults" who became vocal critics and the anti-cult movement of making these unusual religious movements look bad without sufficient reasons.

Propaganda is a mighty weapon in war. In this case its aim is usually to dehumanize and create hatred toward a supposed enemy, either internal or external. The technique is to create a false image in the mind. This can be done by using special words, special avoidance of words or by saying that the enemy is responsible for certain things he never did. Most propaganda wars require the home population to feel the enemy has inflicted an injustice, which may be fictitious or may be based on facts. The home population must also decide that the cause of their nation is just.

Propaganda is also one of the methods used in psychological warfare, which may also involve false flag operations.

The term propaganda may also refer to false information meant to reinforce the mindsets of people who already believe as the propagandist wishes. The assumption is that, if people believe something false, they will constantly be assailed by doubts. Since these doubts are unpleasant (see cognitive dissonance), people will be eager to have them extinguished, and are therefore receptive to the reassurances of those in power. For this reason propaganda is often addressed to people who are already sympathetic to the agenda. This process of reinforcement uses an individual's predisposition to self-select "agreeable" information sources as a mechanism for maintaining control.

US Office for War Information, propaganda message: working less helps our enemies
US Office for War Information, propaganda message: working less helps our enemies

Propaganda can be classified according to the source and nature of the message. White propaganda generally comes from an openly identified source, and is characterized by gentler methods of persuasion, such as standard public relations techniques and one-sided presentation of an argument. Black propaganda is identified as being from one source, but is in fact from another. This is most commonly to disguise the true origins of the propaganda, be it from an enemy country or from an organization with a negative public image. Grey propaganda is propaganda without any identifiable source or author. In scale, these different types of propaganda can also be defined by the potential of true and correct information to compete with the propaganda. For example, opposition to white propaganda is often readily found and may slightly discredit the propaganda source. Opposition to grey propaganda, when revealed (often by an inside source), may create some level of public outcry. Opposition to black propaganda is often unavailable and may be dangerous to reveal, because public cognizance of black propaganda tactics and sources would undermine or backfire the very campaign the black propagandist supported.

Propaganda may be administered in very insidious ways. For instance, disparaging disinformation about the history of certain groups or foreign countries may be encouraged or tolerated in the educational system. Since few people actually double-check what they learn at school, such disinformation will be repeated by journalists as well as parents, thus reinforcing the idea that the disinformation item is really a "well-known fact," even though no one repeating the myth is able to point to an authoritative source. The disinformation is then recycled in the media and in the educational system, without the need for direct governmental intervention on the media.

Such permeating propaganda may be used for political goals: by giving citizens a false impression of the quality or policies of their country, they may be incited to reject certain proposals or certain remarks or ignore the experience of others.

See also: black propaganda, marketing, advertising

Techniques of propaganda transmission

United States Army 312th PSYOP Company passes out leaflets and broadcasts messages in Al Kut, Iraq on May 2, 2003.
United States Army 312th PSYOP Company passes out leaflets and broadcasts messages in Al Kut, Iraq on May 2, 2003.

Common media for transmitting propaganda messages include news reports, government reports, historical revision, junk science, books, leaflets, movies, radio, television, and posters. In the case of radio and television, propaganda can exist on news, current-affairs or talk-show segments, as advertising or public-service announce "spots" or as long-running advertorials. The magazine Tricontinental, issued by the Cuban OSPAAAL organization, folds propaganda posters and places one in each copy, allowing a very broad distribution of pro-Fidel Castro propaganda.

Ideally a propaganda campaign will follow a strategic transmission pattern to fully indoctrinate a group. This may begin with a simple transmission such as a leaflet dropped from a plane or an advertisement. Generally these messages will contain directions on how to obtain more information, via a web site, hotline, radio program, et cetera (as it is seen also for selling purposes among other goals). The strategy intends to initiate the individual from information recipient to information seeker through reinforcement, and then from information seeker to opinion leader through indoctrination. A successful propaganda campaign includes this cyclical meme-reproducing process.

Techniques of propaganda generation

A number of techniques which are based on social psychological research are used to generate propaganda. Many of these same techniques can be found under logical fallacies, since propagandists use arguments that, while sometimes convincing, are not necessarily valid.

Some time has been spent analyzing the means by which propaganda messages are transmitted. That work is important but it is clear that information dissemination strategies only become propaganda strategies when coupled with propagandistic messages. Identifying these messages is a necessary prerequisite to study the methods by which those messages are spread. That is why it is essential to have some knowledge of the following techniques for generating propaganda:

  • Ad Hominem: A Latin phrase which has come to mean attacking your opponent
  • Appeal to authority: Appeals to authority cite prominent figures to support a position idea, argument, or course of action.
  • Appeal to fear: Appeals to fear seek to build support by instilling fear in the general population, for example, Joseph Goebbels exploited Theodore Kaufman's Germany Must Perish! to claim that the Allies sought the extermination of the German people.
  • Appeal to Prejudice: Using loaded or emotive terms to attach value or moral goodness to believing the proposition. "A reasonable person would agree that our income tax is too low."
  • Argumentum ad nauseam: Uses tireless repetition. An idea once repeated enough times, is taken as the truth. Works best when media sources are limited and controlled by the propagator.
  • Bandwagon: Bandwagon and inevitable-victory appeals attempt to persuade the target audience to take the course of action that "everyone else is taking."
    • Inevitable victory: invites those not already on the bandwagon to join those already on the road to certain victory. Those already or at least partially on the bandwagon are reassured that staying aboard is their best course of action.
    • Join the crowd: This technique reinforces people's natural desire to be on the winning side. This technique is used to convince the audience that a program is an expression of an irresistible mass movement and that it is in their best interest to join.
  • Black-and-White fallacy: Presenting only two choices, with the product or idea being propagated as the better choice. (Eg. You are either with us or with the evil enemy)
  • Common man: The "'plain folks'" or "common man" approach attempts to convince the audience that the propagandist's positions reflect the common sense of the people. It is designed to win the confidence of the audience by communicating in the common manner and style of the target audience. Propagandists use ordinary language and mannerisms (and clothe their message in face-to-face and audiovisual communications) in attempting to identify their point of view with that of the average person.
  • Demonizing the “enemy”: Projecting a person or idea as the "enemy" through suggestion or false accusations.
World War I poster by Winsor McCay, urging Americans to buy Liberty Bonds
World War I poster by Winsor McCay, urging Americans to buy Liberty Bonds
  • Direct order: This technique hopes to simplify the decision making process. The propagandist uses images and words to tell the audience exactly what actions to take, eliminating any other possible choices. Authority figures can be used to give the order, overlapping it with the Appeal to authority technique, but not necessarily. The Uncle Sam "I want you" image is an example of this technique.
  • Euphoria: The use of an event that generates euphoria or happiness in lieu of spreading more sadness, or using a good event to try to cover up another. Or creating a celebrateable event in the hopes of boosting morale. Euphoria can be used to take one's mind from a worse feeling. i.e. a holiday or parade.
  • Falsifying information: The creation or deletion of information from public records, in the purpose of making a false record of an event or the actions of a person during a court session, or possibly a battle, etc. Pseudoscience is often used in this way.
  • Flag-waving: An attempt to justify an action on the grounds that doing so will make one more patriotic, or in some way benefit a group, country, or idea. The feeling of patriotism which this technique attempts to inspire may diminish or entirely omit one's capability for rational examination of the matter in question.
  • Glittering generalities: Glittering generalities are emotionally appealing words applied to a product or idea, but which present no concrete argument or analysis. A famous example is the campaign slogan "Ford has a better idea!"
  • Intentional vagueness: Generalities are deliberately vague so that the audience may supply its own interpretations. The intention is to move the audience by use of undefined phrases, without analyzing their validity or attempting to determine their reasonableness or application. The intent is to cause people to draw their own interpretations rather than simply being presented with an explicit idea. In trying to "figure out" the propaganda, the audience foregoes judgment of the ideas presented. Their validity, reasonableness and application is not considered.
  • Obtain disapproval or Reductio ad Hitlerum: This technique is used to persuade a target audience to disapprove of an action or idea by suggesting that the idea is popular with groups hated, feared, or held in contempt by the target audience. Thus if a group which supports a certain policy is led to believe that undesirable, subversive, or contemptible people support the same policy, then the members of the group may decide to change their original position.
  • Oversimplification: Favorable generalities are used to provide simple answers to complex social, political, economic, or military problems.
  • Quotes out of Context: Selective editing of quotes which can change meanings. Political "documentaries" often make use of this technique.
  • Rationalization: Individuals or groups may use favorable generalities to rationalize questionable acts or beliefs. Vague and pleasant phrases are often used to justify such actions or beliefs.
  • Red herring: Presenting data that is irrelevant, then claiming that it validates your argument.
  • Scapegoating: Assigning blame to an individual or group that isn't really responsible, thus alleviating feelings of guilt from responsible parties and/or distracting attention from the need to fix the problem for which blame is being assigned.
  • Slogans: A slogan is a brief, striking phrase that may include labeling and stereotyping. Although slogans may be enlisted to support reasoned ideas, in practice they tend to act only as emotional appeals. For example, "blood for oil" or "cut and run" are slogans used by those who view the USA's current situation in Iraq with disfavor. Similarly, the names of the military campaigns, such as "enduring freedom" or "just cause", may also be regarded to be slogans, devised to prevent free thought on the issues.
  • Stereotyping or Name Calling or Labeling: This technique attempts to arouse prejudices in an audience by labeling the object of the propaganda campaign as something the target audience fears, hates, loathes, or finds undesirable. For instance, reporting on a foreign country or social group may focus on the stereotypical traits that the reader expects, even though they are far from being representative of the whole country or group; such reporting often focuses on the anecdotal.
  • Testimonial: Testimonials are quotations, in or out of context, especially cited to support or reject a given policy, action, program, or personality. The reputation or the role (expert, respected public figure, etc.) of the individual giving the statement is exploited. The testimonial places the official sanction of a respected person or authority on a propaganda message. This is done in an effort to cause the target audience to identify itself with the authority or to accept the authority's opinions and beliefs as its own. See also, damaging quotation
Soldier loads a "leaflet bomb" during the Korean war.
Soldier loads a "leaflet bomb" during the Korean war.
  • Transfer: Also known as Association, this is a technique of projecting positive or negative qualities (praise or blame) of a person, entity, object, or value (an individual, group, organization, nation, patriotism, etc.) to another to make the second more acceptable or to discredit it. It evokes an emotional response, which stimulates the target to identify with recognized authorities. Often highly visual, this technique often utilizes symbols (for example, the Swastika used in Nazi Germany, originally a symbol for health and prosperity) superimposed over other visual images. An example of common use of this technique in America is for the President to be filmed or photographed in front of the American flag.
  • Unstated assumption: This technique is used when the propaganda concept that the propagandist intends to transmit would seem less credible if explicitly stated. The concept is instead repeatedly assumed or implied.
  • Virtue words: These are words in the value system of the target audience which tend to produce a positive image when attached to a person or issue. Peace, happiness, security, wise leadership, freedom, etc. are virtue words. See "" Transfer"".

See also: doublespeak, meme, cult of personality, spin, demonization, factoid

The propaganda model

The propaganda model is a theory advanced by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky that alleges systemic biases in the mass media and seeks to explain them in terms of structural economic causes.

First presented in their 1988 book Manufacturing Consent: the Political Economy of the Mass Media, the propaganda model views the private media as businesses selling a product — readers and audiences (rather than news) — to other businesses (advertisers). The theory postulates five general classes of "filters" that determine the type of news that is presented in news media. These five are:

  1. Ownership of the medium
  2. Medium's funding sources
  3. Sourcing
  4. Flak
  5. Anti-communist ideology

The first three (ownership, funding, and sourcing) are generally regarded by the authors as being the most important.

Although the model was based mainly on the characterization of United States media, Chomsky and Herman believe the theory is equally applicable to any country that shares the basic economic structure and organizing principles which the model postulates as the cause of media biases. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Chomsky stated that the new filter replacing communism would be terrorism and Islam.

History of propaganda

Propaganda has been a human activity as far back as reliable recorded evidence exists.

Ancient propaganda

The Behistun Inscription (c. 515 BCE) detailing the rise of Darius I to the Persian throne, can be seen as an early example of propaganda.

The Arthashastra written by Chanakya (c. 350 - 283 BCE), a professor of political science at Takshashila University and a prime minister of the Maurya Empire, discusses propaganda in detail, such as how to spread propaganda and how to apply it in warfare. His student Chandragupta Maurya (c. 340 - 293 BCE), founder of the Maurya Empire, employed these methods during his rise to power.

The writings of Romans such as Livy (c. 59 BCE - 17 CE) are considered masterpieces of pro-Roman statist propaganda.

19th and 20th centuries

U.S. Propaganda from WWII, Depicting Hitler as foolish
U.S. Propaganda from WWII, Depicting Hitler as foolish

Gabriel Tarde's Laws of Imitation (1890) and Gustave Le Bon's The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (1897) were two of the first codifications of propaganda techniques, which influenced many writers afterward, including Sigmund Freud. Hitler's Mein Kampf is heavily influenced by Le Bon's theories. Journalist Walter Lippman, in Public Opinion (1922) also worked on the subject, as well as psychologist Edward Bernays, a nephew of Freud, early in the 20th century. During World War I, Lippman and Bernays were hired by then United States President, Woodrow Wilson, to participate in the Creel Commission, the mission of which was to sway popular opinion in favour of entering the war, on the side of the United Kingdom. The Creel Commission provided themes for speeches by "four-minute men" at public functions, and also encouraged censorship of the American press. The Commission was so unpopular that after the war, Congress closed it down without providing funding to organize and archive its papers.

The war propaganda campaign of Lippman and Bernays produced within six months such an intense anti-German hysteria as to permanently impress American business (and Adolf Hitler, among others) with the potential of large-scale propaganda to control public opinion. Bernays coined the terms "group mind" and "engineering consent", important concepts in practical propaganda work.

The current public relations industry is a direct outgrowth of Lippman's and Bernays' work and is still used extensively by the United States government. For the first half of the 20th century Bernays and Lippman themselves ran a very successful public relations firm.

World War II saw continued use of propaganda as a weapon of war, both by Hitler's propagandist Joseph Goebbels and the British Political Warfare Executive, as well as the United States Office of War Information.

In the early 2000s, the United States government developed and freely distributed a video game known as America's Army. The stated intention of the game is to encourage players to become interested in joining the U.S. Army. According to a poll by I for I Research, 30% of young people who had a positive view of the military said that they had developed that view by playing the game, Propaganda is ability to feed hungry person with painted food (Simonas Onaitis, Lithuanian student)

Russian revolution

Russian revolutionaries of the 19th and 20th centuries distinguished two different aspects covered by the English term propaganda. Their terminology included two terms: Russian: агитация (agitatsiya), or agitation, and Russian: пропаганда, or propaganda, see agitprop (agitprop is not, however, limited to the Soviet Union, as it was considered, before the October Revolution, to be one of the fundamental activity of any Marxist activist; this importance of agit-prop in Marxist theory may also be observed today in Trotskyist circles, who insist on the importance of leaflets distribution).

Soviet propaganda meant dissemination of revolutionary ideas, teachings of Marxism, and theoretical and practical knowledge of Marxist economics, while agitation meant forming favorable public opinion and stirring up political unrest. These activities did not carry negative connotations (as they usually do in English) and were encouraged. Expanding dimensions of state propaganda, the Bolsheviks actively used transportation such as trains, aircraft and other means.

Josef Stalin's regime built the largest fixed-wing aircraft of the 1930s, Tupolev ANT-20, exclusively for this purpose. Named after the famous Soviet writer Maxim Gorky who had recently returned from fascist Italy, it was equipped with a powerful radio set called "Voice from the sky", printing and leaflet-dropping machinery, radiostations, photographic laboratory, film projector with sound for showing movies in flight, library, etc. The aircraft could be disassembled and transported by railroad if needed. The giant aircraft set a number of world records.

Nazi Germany

Most propaganda in Germany was produced by the Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda ( Propagandaministerium, or "Promi" (German abbreviation)). Joseph Goebbels was placed in charge of this ministry shortly after Hitler took power in 1933. All journalists, writers, and artists were required to register with one of the Ministry's subordinate chambers for the press, fine arts, music, theatre, film, literature, or radio.

The Nazis believed in propaganda as a vital tool in achieving their goals. Adolf Hitler, Germany's Führer, was impressed by the power of Allied propaganda during World War I and believed that it had been a primary cause of the collapse of morale and revolts in the German home front and Navy in 1918 (see also: Dolchstoßlegende). Hitler would meet nearly every day with Goebbels to discuss the news and Goebbels would obtain Hitler's thoughts on the subject; Goebbels would then meet with senior Ministry officials and pass down the official Party line on world events. Broadcasters and journalists required prior approval before their works were disseminated.

Along with posters, the Nazis produced a number of films and books to spread their beliefs.

Cold War propaganda

Soviet propaganda poster of Lenin from 1967
Soviet propaganda poster of Lenin from 1967

The United States and the Soviet Union both used propaganda extensively during the Cold War. Both sides used film, television, and radio programming to influence their own citizens, each other, and Third World nations. The United States Information Agency operated the Voice of America as an official government station. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, which were in part supported by the Central Intelligence Agency, provided grey propaganda in news and entertainment programs to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union respectively. The Soviet Union's official government station, Radio Moscow, broadcast white propaganda, while Radio Peace and Freedom broadcast grey propaganda. Both sides also broadcast black propaganda programs in periods of special crises. In 1948, the United Kingdom's Foreign Office created the IRD ( Information Research Department) which took over from wartime and slightly post-war departments such as the Ministry of Information and dispensed propaganda via various media such as the BBC and publishing.

Large image of Joseph Stalin looms over Soviets.
Large image of Joseph Stalin looms over Soviets.

The ideological and border dispute between the Soviet Union and People's Republic of China resulted in a number of cross-border operations. One technique developed during this period was the "backwards transmission," in which the radio program was recorded and played backwards over the air. (This was done so that messages meant to be received by the other government could be heard, while the average listener could not understand the content of the program.)

Soviet propaganda appeared in Soviet Union education, as well. Propaganda went so far in school that it sometimes even interfered with learning. When one learned history, one would never learn any history except for Russia's, but even that was not at all valid. There were often lies spread about how life in America and other Western countries was, and how rich the U.S.S.R. was compared to them. Also, the Soviets used classic novels, such as the American favorite Uncle Tom's Cabin to spread communist propaganda. The overall motif and message was twisted to an anti-American message and was fed to the schools.

In the Americas, Cuba served as a major source and a target of propaganda from both black and white stations operated by the CIA and Cuban exile groups. Radio Habana Cuba, in turn, broadcast original programming, relayed Radio Moscow, and broadcast The Voice of Vietnam as well as alleged confessions from the crew of the USS Pueblo.

One of the most insightful authors of the Cold War era was George Orwell, whose novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four are virtual textbooks on the use of propaganda. Though not set in the Soviet Union, these books are about totalitarian regimes in which language is constantly corrupted for political purposes. These novels were, ironically, used for explicit propaganda. The CIA, for example, secretly commissioned an animated film adaptation of Animal Farm in the 1950s with small changes to the original story to suit its own needs. Another source of irony is the fact that Orwell himself was a socialist and did not just have left-wing totalitarian regimes in mind when he wrote 1984.


In the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, psychological operations tactics were employed to demoralize the Taliban and to win the sympathies of the Afghan population. At least six EC-130E Commando Solo aircraft were used to jam local radio transmissions and transmit replacement propaganda messages.

Leaflets were also dropped throughout Afghanistan, offering rewards for Osama bin Laden and other individuals, portraying Americans as friends of Afghanistan and emphasizing various negative aspects of the Taliban. Another shows a picture of Mohammed Omar in a set of crosshairs with the words "We are watching".


In 2003 the American administration led by George W. Bush selectively chose intelligence reports which indicated the Iraqi military possessed what the administration referred to as Weapons of Mass Destruction. These reports were later found to be incorrect, and timely objections by intelligence experts to the misinformation were eventually revealed. This faulty information, and its dissemination through the American media, was sufficient to engage America in its largest military operation in decades. The motives for this selective misinformation campaign, and the subsequent military action, have not yet been documented.

U.S.PSYOP pamphlet disseminated in Iraq.  Text: "This is your future al-Zarqawi" and shows al-Qaeda terrorist al-Zarqawi caught in a rat trap.
U.S.PSYOP pamphlet disseminated in Iraq. Text: "This is your future al-Zarqawi" and shows al-Qaeda terrorist al-Zarqawi caught in a rat trap.

During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf repeatedly claimed Iraqi forces were decisively winning every battle. Even up to the overthrow of the Iraqi government at Baghdad, he maintained that the United States would soon be defeated, in contradiction with all other media. Due to this, he quickly became a cult figure in the West, and gained recognition on the website The Iraqis, misled by his propaganda, on the other hand, were shocked when instead Iraq was defeated.

In November 2005, various media outlets, including The Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, alleged that the United States military had manipulated news reported in Iraqi media in an effort to cast a favorable light on its actions while demoralizing the insurgency. Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a military spokesman in Iraq, said the program is "an important part of countering misinformation in the news by insurgents", while a spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the allegations of manipulation were troubling if true. The Department of Defense has confirmed the existence of the program. More recently, The New York Times (see external links below) published an article about how the Pentagon has started to use contractors with little experience in journalism or public relations to plant articles in the Iraqi press. These articles are usually written by US soldiers without attribution or are attributed to a non-existent organization called the " International Information Centre." Planting propaganda stories in newspapers was done by both the Allies and Central Powers in the First World War and the Axis and Allies in the Second; this is the latest version of this technique.

In October 2006, one American media outlet allegedly propagandized the American public in a fashion reminiscent of the propaganda effect of the Tet Offensive. First, insurgents located in Iraq filmed their murder of American soldiers protecting Iraqi civilians. Then, CNN obtained the tapes from the insurgents and rebroadcast them in America mere weeks before national elections were to occur. The American President's press secretary said in response, "your network has shown pictures of snipers hitting Americans, which was used as a propaganda tool, so the fact is that — it shows real sophistication on the part of these guys, because it creates the impression that Americans are sitting ducks, and that these guys are capable, when, in fact, while you have a capable enemy, they're dying in much greater numbers and suffering much greater damage." As a result of CNN's actions, The Pentagon has been asked to remove embedded CNN reporters: "C-N-N has now served as the publicist for an enemy propaganda film featuring the killing of an American soldier."

Children and propaganda

Of all the potential targets for propaganda children are the most vulnerable: in that they are the most unprepared for the critical reasoning and contextual comprehension required to determine whether a message is propaganda or not.

To a degree, socialization, formal education, and standardized television programming can be seen as using propaganda for the purpose of indoctrination. Schools that utilize dogmatic, frozen world-views, often resort to propagandist curriculums that indoctrinate children. The use of propaganda in schools was highly prevalent during the 1930s and 1940s in Germany, as well as in Stalinist Russia.

In Nazi Germany, the education system was thoroughly co-opted to indoctrinate the German youth with anti-Semitic ideology. This was accomplished through the National Socialist Teachers’ Union, of which 97% of all German teachers were members in 1937. It encouraged the teaching of “racial theory.” Picture books for children such as Don’t Trust A Fox in A Green Meadow Or the Word of A Jew, The Poisonous Mushroom, and The Poodle-Pug-Dachshund-Pincher were widely circulated (over 100,000 copies of Don’t Trust A Fox… were circulated during the late 1930s) and contained depictions of Jews as devils, child molesters, and other morally charged figures. Slogans such as “Judas the Jew betrayed Jesus the German to the Jews” were recited in class. The following is an example of a propagandistic math problem recommended by the National Socialist Essence of Education.

The Jews are aliens in Germany—in 1933 there were 66,06,000 inhabitants in the German Reich, of whom 499,682 were Jews. What is the per cent of aliens?

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