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Propaganda ‘til You Puke

Aug. 1, 2021
I’m sick of all the false stories, lies, half-truths, omitted evidence… in short: propaganda that attempts to alter my beliefs every day in the media.  Little things like… Covid19 Orwellian […]

I’m sick of all the false stories, lies, half-truths, omitted evidence… in short: propaganda that attempts to alter my beliefs every day in the media. 

Little things like… Covid19 Orwellian newspeak: Social Distancing (which is actually anti-social physical distancing), New Normal (which is as far from normal as possible), We’re All in This Together (which ignores how divided people are over wearing masks), Essential Workers (as if everyone’s job is NOT essential to them), and Sheltering in Place (used to explain why healthy people are quarantined). 

Or big things like… calling store owners, who raise their prices during shortages, Price Gougers; when common sense tells us that if prices are raised, then people won’t hoard or buy more than they need, and fewer people will go without. 

Depending on how much media you voluntarily attend (television, radio, print, plus all the social media on the Internet), the daily propaganda we’re presented with can be overwhelming. And I’m not even including the nearly 5000 advertisements the average American is exposed to every day, because even though advertising can use subtle techniques to speak to our subconscious minds, it is rarely propaganda. Typically advertisers want to demonstrate how their product or service will solve a customer’s problem. Most tell the truth because, while a deceptive ad may get a lot of people to try their product in the short run, when customers discover the fraud they will spread the word to everyone they know. There’s a saying in the ad industry: Nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising. 

I recall when I was 8 years old; I asked Santa Claus for a Green Ghost Game which had been heavily advertised on TV. You played it in the dark on a game board that glowed. The TV commercials made it look so cool; showing game pieces that mysteriously disappeared from one place on the game board, and then magically reappeared by rising back onto the board in a different place. When I saw that — I had to have it! 

Never before had I wanted something so much. Santa delivered; and I couldn’t wait to play it. I opened the box and found that the game board had 6 long legs which propped it up off the ground like a small table. I was curious how the magic happened because I didn’t see any conveyor belts or machinery under the board. 

As I read the instructions, I learned there wasn’t any. You would spin a green ghost which would point to the number of spaces you could move your game piece. Along the spaces, there were holes in the board, and if you landed on a hole you dropped your piece through it, caught it in your hand underneath the board, then manually shoved it back up out of the next hole which advanced your piece forward several extra spaces — kind of like landing on a ladder in the board game Chutes & Ladders. There was nothing magic or automatic as the commercial implied. I felt completely deceived, and warned my friends not to buy it. 

Advertising seeks to persuade you to buy a product or service, however if it seeks to change your beliefs then it falls into the realm of propaganda. An example of such is the DeBeers diamond marketing campaign in the late 1930s which promoted the belief, that in order to become engaged to be married, a man had to give a woman a diamond ring. The marketing campaign further pushed the idea that a man should spend 2 months’ salary on the ring. Both concepts are entrenched in public belief today. 

Propaganda seeks to persuade you to accept a belief or change an attitude toward an issue (when it is done repeatedly it is also known as Indoctrination or Brainwashing). Some have called it psychological warfare because it has been used to manipulate feelings of patriotism as well as demoralize an enemy. Wartime propaganda has been nicknamed Paper Bullets. Propaganda is a form of communication that is intentionally used to spread information (or disinformation) and ideas that can promote a cause or discredit an opposing one. And it often preys on our fears. 

Food for Thought from Our 2022 ICT Visionaries

Edward Bernays states, in the opening lines of his book Propaganda, "The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country." 

The best way to protect yourself from propaganda is to understand how it works and be on the alert for it. Here are the classic propaganda techniques identified by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis in the late 1930s (most of which are still used today): 

Name Calling: You destroy your opponent by attaching a negative label to them such as racist, misogynist, traitor, bully, and so on. 

Glittering Generalities: You make something sound more important by using meaningless words that cannot be proved or disproved such as good, honest, fair, best, etc. 

Transfer: You attempt to transfer the prestige of a positive symbol to a person or an idea. A common example is the use of an American flag as a backdrop for an event. 

False Analogy: You portray 2 things as similar which on closer examination are not similar. 

Testimonial: You get a celebrity to endorse the belief you are promoting. 

Plain Folks: You get an average ordinary person, with whom people can easily relate, to endorse your belief. 

Card Stacking: You omit unfavorable statistics about the belief you want to promote. You only show the favorable ones which means you are telling only a partial truth. 

Bandwagon: You encourage people to accept your belief because "Hey, everyone is doing it!" Most people don’t want to be left out. 

Either/Or: You only offer 2 choices, and promote it by saying if you are not for this then you are against it. Classic example is "If you’re not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem." This technique offers no middle ground and is used to polarize issues. 

Faulty Cause and Effect: You suggest that because 2 events are somehow related that one caused the other. You present your case as: If B follows A, then A must cause B. 

The best way to deal with propaganda is to avoid it. Turn off your TV. It’s not just the news, it’s movies, TV dramas, sitcoms, documentaries, and other forms of information and entertainment — each of which carry subtle messages. Make sure that you’re not buying into a narrative that goes against your best interests. Be wary of slogans. Ask yourself how is this statement attempting to reframe the issue or situation? 

Finally, don’t allow yourself to become isolated from other people. Community is important in understanding the truth. Gather together, talk, discuss, and analyze the things you are being told.

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About the Author

Robert Wilson

Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. is an innovation/change speaker, author, and consultant. He works with companies that want to be more competitive through innovation and with people who want to think more creatively. Rob is the author of ...and Never Coming Back, a psychological mystery-novel about a motion picture director; the inspirational book: Wisdom in the Weirdest Places; and The Annoying Ghost Kid, a humorous children’s book about dealing with a bully. For more information on Rob, please visit