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Fighting Propaganda

Don't let yourself be fooled by propaganda - Parts 1 - 3 of 10


Propaganda is the primary way people create polarization in our society. It avoids full exposure in favor of promoting agendas. There are a variety of ways of doing it, and this series explains how it is done so that you can recognize it for what it is.

Basic ways to recognize propaganda

George Washington and Albert Einstein shared the view that propaganda is the most harmful challenge affecting our nation. If you believe this, you just became the victim of propaganda.

People want to give others the benefit of the doubt, and believe what they say, especially if it supports an opinion they already have. Some people today believe that we should no longer give anyone the benefit of the doubt about much of anything. We are surrounded by propagandists and liars who have refined their methods to be highly effective.

We encounter propaganda every day. Advertising generally uses a more subtle form of propaganda to get you to try a product, but not generally to deceive you. Some advertising is very deceptive and you should avoid their products.

The Internet and Facebook are full of propaganda and people who spread it, often unwittingly, because they don't recognize it for what it is. Propaganda is designed to be deceptive and manipulative. It is often used by religious groups and their opponents, politicians and their opponents, special interest group members and their opponents, and industry groups and their opponents.

When you and I have a discussion, we may or may not use propaganda. We probably will tell what we believe to be true. Our opinion, and even recruiting and some advertising, aren't propaganda. It becomes propaganda when it becomes deceptive and intended to manipulate you into some action, such as supporting their cause and spreading their propaganda.

The aim of propaganda is to falsely manipulate your opinion. It does this either to change your opinion to support their agenda, or harden your opinion so that others can't change it.

How do you recognize propaganda?

  1. It typically appeals to emotion and biases, not rational thinking.
  2. It promotes only one side of an argument.
  3. It misuses statistics and studies to support its own view.
  4. It attempts to discredit the other side of the argument with bogus or distorted facts.
  5. It typically uses sound bytes or slogans to encapsulate their view.
  6. It misquotes authorities.
  7. It is often outright lies (disinformation).
  8. It establishes bogus arguments.

Unfortunately, the same can be said about any discussion. It is very difficult to tell sometimes which is a thoroughly explored issue, and which is simply well formed propaganda. Debates usually contain a combination of both. Opinions often contain a combination of both. It usually requires checking sources, and in our sound byte world, people have very little time for this.

An example: "Published on Friday, June 22nd, 2012... In the past two weeks, more than 3,800 people on Facebook have shared a list called "10 Illegal Alien Facts," which includes a claim that more than 43 percent of food stamps go to illegal immigrants.... PolitiFact found it stretches the truth into the realm of a mathematical impossibility and rated it Pants on Fire. Two other claims on the list, which suggest illegal immigrants are getting government handouts, earned a Mostly False and a Pants on Fire."

In the next parts in the series, I will explain how some of propaganda works. Hopefully it will be helpful. Unfortunately some will probably use it as a template for how to fool you.

I have worked with attitude change since 1978. I was also the marketing manager for two companies, and worked with focus groups for crafting market selling messages. I was exposed to the craft of the nation's top persuaders. I know very well how messages work to change opinions - I saw it work first hand in focus groups (which I have to keep confidential). While advertising is not so much of a problem, I personally believe that propaganda, and the resulting polarization, are the most serious challenges the world has ever faced. I try to inform. I despise propaganda.

- Dorian

Next: Propaganda appeals to emotion and biases, not rational thinking.

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Propaganda appeals to emotion and biases, not rational thinking

Don't let yourself be fooled by propaganda - 2 of 10.

People who create propaganda are simply liars. Can you trust a liar? NO. Absolutely not. So if you find that something is propaganda, you should know that the person who created it can't be trusted, and their information is probably bogus.

Propaganda is used because it is effective. If a propaganda message isn't effective, it isn't used. How do propagandists work? They craft a message and then try it out with people, sometimes in a focus group, to see how it plays. They keep crafting the message until it is effective.

Even in advertising, we will typically create 10 or more messages about a product, and then test these messages with people, and get feedback from them on what ideas, words, sentences, etc. didn't work and did work. The result creates a message that works very well to get people to try a product, often over another product. Most advertisers are not into deception, except to the extent that they emphasize the value of their own product.

People who create political messages do the same thing. The most effective form of political advertising is the smear campaign. People are much more touched (infuriated) by a message that says the other candidate is incompetent, a liar, or a crook. So when a political candidate has no effective message, or is behind in the polls, he commonly will result to negative campaigning. Often these messages are either distortions or are completely bogus. Lies. This is an excellent example of propaganda that appeals to emotion and bias, not rational thinking. You have to ask yourself, if this candidate is driven to propaganda, does this liar deserve my vote?

Most hoaxes and propaganda can be checked by doing a search on the text of the hoax.

Next: Promotes only one side of an argument.

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Promotes only one side of an argument - 3 of 10

My side is good and right; their side is bad and wrong.

People who create propaganda have no interest in properly informing you. Their intent is to deceive you. All they care about is getting you to support their agenda.

Authoritative speakers are those who have thoroughly explored an issue, and can tell you the pros and cons of all sides of an issue. Propagandists, on the other hand, might tell you that both sides are after the same thing, but will only tell you the positive aspects of their side, and the negative aspects of the other side. When you are hearing views that take the form, "My side is good, the other side is bad," then be careful, it is probably propaganda.

I hear or read speakers frequently who seem to have encyclopedic knowledge of an issue. They are very adept selling their side and refuting any positive aspect of the other side. These are usually wolves in sheep's clothing. They sound authoritative, but have no intention of properly informing you so that you can make an informed decision.

Next: Misuses statistics and studies to support its own view, and destroy another view. - 4 of 10.

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