Propaganda is information that is not objective and is used primarily
to influence an audience and further an agenda, often by presenting
facts selectively to encourage a particular synthesis or perception,
or using loaded language to produce an emotional rather than a
rational response to the information that is presented. Propaganda
is often associated with material prepared by governments, but
activist groups, companies and the media can also produce propaganda.
In the twentieth century, the term propaganda has been associated with
a manipulative approach, but propaganda historically was a neutral
descriptive term. A wide range of materials and media are used
for conveying propaganda messages, which changed as new technologies
were invented, including paintings, cartoons, posters, pamphlets,
films, radio shows, TV shows, and websites.
In a 1929 literary debate with Edward Bernays, Everett Dean Martin
argues that, “
Propaganda is making puppets of us. We are moved by
hidden strings which the propagandist manipulates.”
3 Public perceptions
4.5 Workplace propaganda
6.1 Social psychology
6.2 Herman and Chomsky
Anti-Semitic propaganda for children
8 See also
11 Further reading
11.2 Essays and articles
Propaganda is a modern
Latin word, the gerundive form of propagare,
meaning to spread or to propagate, thus propaganda means that which is
to be propagated. Originally this word derived from a new
administrative body of the
Catholic church (congregation) created in
1622, called the Congregatio de
Propaganda Fide (Congregation for
Propagating the Faith), or informally simply Propaganda. Its
activity was aimed at "propagating" the
Catholic faith in non-Catholic
From the 1790s, the term began being used also to refer to propaganda
in secular activities. The term began taking a pejorative or
negative connotation in the mid-19th century, when it was used in the
Main article: History of propaganda
Primitive forms of propaganda have been a human activity as far back
as reliable recorded evidence exists. The
Behistun Inscription (c. 515
BC) detailing the rise of Darius I to the Persian throne is viewed by
most historians as an early example of propaganda. Another striking
example of propaganda during Ancient History is the last Roman civil
wars (44-30 BC) during which Octavian and
Mark Antony blame each other
for obscure and degrading origins, cruelty, cowardice, oratorical and
literary incompetence, debaucheries, luxury, drunkenness and other
slanders. This defamation taked the form of uituperatio (Roman
rhetorical genre of the invective) which was decisive for shaping the
Roman public opinion at this time.
Propaganda during the Reformation, helped by the spread of the
printing press throughout Europe, and in particular within Germany,
caused new ideas, thoughts, and doctrine to be made available to the
public in ways that had never been seen before the 16th century.
During the era of the American Revolution, the American colonies had a
flourishing network of newspapers and printers who specialized in the
topic on behalf of the Patriots (and to a lesser extent on behalf of
A propaganda newspaper clipping that refers to the Bataan Death March
The first large-scale and organised propagation of government
propaganda was occasioned by the outbreak of war in 1914. After the
defeat of Germany in the First World War, military officials such as
Erich Ludendorff suggested that British propaganda had been
instrumental in their defeat.
Adolf Hitler came to echo this view,
believing that it had been a primary cause of the collapse of morale
and the revolts in the German home front and Navy in 1918 (see also:
Dolchstoßlegende). In Mein Kampf (1925)
Hitler expounded his theory
of propaganda, which provided a powerful base for his rise to power in
Robert Ensor explains that "Hitler...puts no limit on
what can be done by propaganda; people will believe anything, provided
they are told it often enough and emphatically enough, and that
contradicters are either silenced or smothered in calumny." Most
Nazi Germany was produced by the Ministry of Public
Propaganda under Joseph Goebbels.
World War II
World War II saw
continued use of propaganda as a weapon of war, building on the
experience of WWI, by Goebbels and the British
Executive, as well as the
United States Office of War Information.
Anti-religious Soviet propaganda poster
In the early 20th century, the invention of motion pictures gave
propaganda-creators a powerful tool for advancing political and
military interests when it came to reaching a broad segment of the
population and creating consent or encouraging rejection of the real
or imagined enemy. In the years following the
October Revolution of
1917, the Soviet government sponsored the Russian film industry with
the purpose of making propaganda films (e.g. the 1925 film The
Battleship Potemkin glorifies
Communist ideals.) In WWII, Nazi
filmmakers produced highly emotional films to create popular support
for occupying the
Sudetenland and attacking Poland. The 1930s and
1940s, which saw the rise of totalitarian states and the Second World
War, are arguably the "Golden Age of Propaganda". Leni Riefenstahl, a
filmmaker working in
Nazi Germany, created one of the best-known
propaganda movies, Triumph of the Will. In the US, animation became
popular, especially for winning over youthful audiences and aiding the
U.S. war effort, e.g.,
Der Fuehrer's Face
Der Fuehrer's Face (1942), which ridicules
Hitler and advocates the value of freedom. US war films in the early
1940s were designed to create a patriotic mindset and convince viewers
that sacrifices needed to be made to defeat the Axis Powers.
Polish filmmakers in Great Britain created anti-nazi color film
Calling mr. Smith (1943) about current nazi crimes in occupied
Europe and about lies of nazi propaganda.
The West 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.
George Orwell's novels
Animal Farm and
Nineteen Eighty-Four are
virtual textbooks on the use of propaganda. During the Cuban
Fidel Castro stressed the importance of
propaganda.[better source needed]
Propaganda was used
Communist forces in the
Vietnam War as means of
controlling people's opinions.
During the Yugoslav wars, propaganda was used as a military strategy
by governments of
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Croatia.
Propaganda was used to create fear and hatred, and particularly incite
the Serb population against the other ethnicities (Bosniaks, Croats,
Albanians and other non-Serbs). Serb media made a great effort in
justifying, revising or denying mass war crimes committed by Serb
forces during these wars.
In the early 20th century the term propaganda was used by the founders
of the nascent public relations industry to refer to their people.
This image 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
that must be disseminated", in some cultures the term is neutral or
even positive, while in others the term has acquired a strong negative
connotation. The connotations of the term "propaganda" can also vary
over time. For example, in Portuguese and some Spanish language
speaking countries, particularly in the Southern Cone, the word
"propaganda" usually refers to the most common manipulative
media — "advertising".
Poster of the 19th-century Scandinavist movement
In English, propaganda was originally a neutral term for the
dissemination of information in favor of any given cause. During the
20th century, however, the term acquired a thoroughly negative meaning
in western countries, representing the intentional dissemination of
often false, but certainly "compelling" claims to support or justify
political actions or ideologies. According to Harold Lasswell, the
term began to fall out of favor due to growing public suspicion of
propaganda in the wake of its use during
World War I
World War I by the Creel
Committee in the
United States and the Ministry of Information in
Britain: Writing in 1928, Lasswell observed, "In democratic countries
the official propaganda bureau was looked upon with genuine alarm, for
fear that it might be suborned to party and personal ends. The outcry
United States against Mr. Creel's famous Bureau of Public
Information (or 'Inflammation') helped to din into the public mind the
fact that propaganda existed. … The public's discovery of propaganda
has led to a great of lamentation over it.
Propaganda has become an
epithet of contempt and hate, and the propagandists have sought
protective coloration in such names as 'public relations council,'
'specialist in public education,' 'public relations adviser.' "
Identifying propaganda has always been a problem. The main
difficulties have involved differentiating propaganda from other types
of persuasion, and avoiding a biased approach. Richard Alan Nelson
provides a definition of the term: "
Propaganda is neutrally defined as
a systematic 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." The
definition focuses on the communicative process involved — or more
precisely, on the purpose of the process, and allow "propaganda" to be
considered objectively and then interpreted as positive or negative
behavior depending on the perspective of the viewer or listener.
Propaganda poster in North Korean primary school
According to historian Zbyněk Zeman, propaganda is defined as either
white, grey or black. White propaganda openly discloses its source and
intent. Grey propaganda has an ambiguous or non-disclosed source or
Black propaganda purports to be published by the enemy or some
organization besides its actual origins (compare with black
operation, a type of clandestine operation in which the identity of
the sponsoring government is hidden). 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 poster in North Korea
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.
Propaganda was often used to influence opinions and beliefs on
religious issues, particularly during the split between the Roman
Catholic Church and the Protestant churches.
More in line with the religious roots of the term, propaganda 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 Christian
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" and the anti-cult
movement of making these unusual religious movements look bad without
A US Office for War Information poster uses stereotyped imagery to
encourage Americans to work hard to contribute to the war effort
World War II
World War II usage of the word "propaganda" more typically
refers to political or nationalist uses of these techniques or to the
promotion of a set of ideas.
Propaganda is a powerful weapon in war; it is used to dehumanize and
create hatred toward a supposed enemy, either internal or external, by
creating a false image in the mind of soldiers and citizens. This can
be done by using derogatory or racist terms (e.g., the racist terms
"Jap" and "gook" used during
World War II
World War II and the Vietnam War,
respectively), avoiding some words or language or by making
allegations of enemy atrocities. Most propaganda efforts in wartime
require the home population to feel the enemy has inflicted an
injustice, which may be fictitious or may be based on facts (e.g., the
sinking of the passenger ship
RMS Lusitania by the German Navy in
World War I). The home population must also believe that the cause of
their nation in the war is just. In NATO doctrine, propaganda is
defined as "Any information, ideas, doctrines, or special appeals
disseminated to influence the opinion, emotions, attitudes, or
behaviour of any specified group in order to benefit the sponsor
either directly or indirectly." Within this perspective,
information provided does not need to be necessarily false, but must
be instead relevant to specific goals of the "actor" or "system" that
Propaganda is also one of the methods used in psychological warfare,
which may also involve false flag operations in which the identity of
the operatives is depicted as those of an enemy nation (e.g., The Bay
of Pigs invasion used CIA planes painted in Cuban Air Force markings).
The term propaganda may also refer to false information meant to
reinforce the mindsets of people who already believe as the
propagandist wishes (e.g., During the First World War, the main
purpose of British propaganda was to encourage men join the army, and
women to work in the country’s industry. The propaganda posters were
used, because radios and TVs were not very common at that time.).
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 or views being presented. This
process of reinforcement uses an individual's predisposition to
self-select "agreeable" information sources as a mechanism for
maintaining control over populations.
Britannia arm-in-arm with
Uncle Sam symbolizes the British-American
alliance in World War I.
Propaganda may be administered in 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.
Soviet Union during the Second World War, the propaganda
designed to encourage civilians was controlled by Stalin, who insisted
on a heavy-handed style that educated audiences easily saw was
inauthentic. On the other hand, the unofficial rumours about German
atrocities were well founded and convincing. Stalin was a Georgian
who spoke Russian with a heavy accent. That would not do for a
national hero so starting in the 1930s all new visual portraits of
Stalin were retouched to erase his Georgian facial characteristics and
make him a more generalized Soviet hero. Only his eyes and famous
mustache remained unaltered. Zhores Medvedev and Roy Medvedev say his
"majestic new image was devised appropriately to depict the leader of
all times and of all peoples."
Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and
prohibits any propaganda for war as well as any advocacy of national
or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination,
hostility or violence by law.
Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in
England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is
understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who
determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the
people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a
Parliament or a
Communist dictatorship. The people can always be
brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to
do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for
lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the
same way in any country.
— Hermann Göring
Propaganda shares techniques with advertising and public relations,
each of which can be thought of as propaganda that promotes a
commercial product or shapes the perception of an organization,
person, or brand.
World War I
World War I propaganda poster for enlistment in the U.S. Army
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.
Propaganda has become 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,
propaganda was exemplified in the form of party slogans. Propaganda
also has much in common with public information campaigns by
governments, which are intended to encourage or discourage certain
forms of behavior (such as wearing seat belts, not smoking, not
littering and so forth). Again, the emphasis is more political in
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".
Roderick Hindery argues that propaganda exists on the political
left, and right, and in mainstream centrist parties. 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. He argues that threats to destroy are
often as socially disruptive as physical devastation itself.
Anti-communist propaganda in a 1947 comic book published by the
Catechetical Guild Educational Society warning of "the dangers of a
9/11 and the appearance of greater media fluidity, propaganda
institutions, practices and legal frameworks have been evolving in the
US and Britain. Dr Emma Louise Briant shows how this included
expansion and integration of the apparatus cross-government and
details attempts to coordinate the forms of propaganda for foreign and
domestic audiences, with new efforts in strategic communication.
These were subject to contestation within the US Government, resisted
by Pentagon Public Affairs and critiqued by some scholars. The
National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (section 1078
(a)) amended the US Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948
(popularly referred to as the Smith-Mundt Act) and the Foreign
Relations Authorization Act of 1987, allowing for materials produced
by the State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)
to be released within U.S. borders for the Archivist of the United
States. The Smith-Mundt Act, as amended, provided that “the
Secretary and the Broadcasting Board of Governors shall make available
to the Archivist of the United States, for domestic distribution,
motion pictures, films, videotapes, and other material 12 years after
the initial dissemination of the material abroad (...) Nothing in this
section shall be construed to prohibit the Department of State or the
Broadcasting Board of Governors from engaging in any medium or form of
communication, either directly or indirectly, because a United States
domestic audience is or may be thereby exposed to program material, or
based on a presumption of such exposure.” Public concerns were
raised upon passage due to the relaxation of prohibitions of domestic
propaganda in the United States.
The ease of data collection emerging from the IT revolution and a lack
of control on the acquired data's use has led to the widespread
implementation of workplace propaganda created much more locally such
as in schools, hospitals, local retail outlets and Universities.
The same article also notes a departure from the traditional
methodology of propagandists i.e., the use of emotionally provocative
imagery to distort facts. Workplace propaganda is suggested to use
'distorted data' to overrule emotion. For example, workplace
propaganda may provide rationales for ideologically driven pay cuts.
Common media for transmitting propaganda messages include news
reports, government reports, historical revision, junk science, books,
leaflets, movies, radio, television, and posters. Some propaganda
campaigns follow a strategic transmission pattern to indoctrinate the
target group. This may begin with a simple transmission, such as a
leaflet or advertisement dropped from a plane or an advertisement.
Generally these messages will contain directions on how to obtain more
information, via a web site, hot line, radio program, etc. (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 number of techniques based in 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 the propaganda
messages are transmitted. That work is important but it is clear that
information dissemination strategies become propaganda strategies only
when coupled with propagandistic messages. Identifying these messages
is a necessary prerequisite to study the methods by which those
messages are spread.
The field of social psychology includes the study of persuasion.
Social psychologists can be sociologists or psychologists. The field
includes many theories and approaches to understanding persuasion. For
example, communication theory points out that people can be persuaded
by the communicator's credibility, expertise, trustworthiness, and
attractiveness. The elaboration likelihood model as well as heuristic
models of persuasion suggest that a number of factors (e.g., the
degree of interest of the recipient of the communication), influence
the degree to which people allow superficial factors to persuade them.
Nobel Prize–winning psychologist
Herbert A. Simon
Herbert A. Simon won the Nobel
prize for his theory that people are cognitive misers. That is, in a
society of mass information, people are forced to make decisions
quickly and often superficially, as opposed to logically.
According to William W. Biddle's 1931 article "A psychological
definition of propaganda", "[t]he four principles followed in
propaganda are: (1) rely on emotions, never argue; (2) cast propaganda
into the pattern of "we" versus an "enemy"; (3) reach groups as well
as individuals; (4) hide the propagandist as much as possible."
Herman and Chomsky
Early 20th-century depiction of a "European Anarchist" attempting to
destroy the Statue of Liberty
The propaganda model is a theory advanced by
Edward S. Herman and Noam
Chomsky which argues systemic biases in the mass media and seeks to
explain them in terms of structural economic causes:
The 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great
political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate
power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting
corporate power against democracy.
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) and relying primarily on government and corporate
information and propaganda. The theory postulates five general classes
of "filters" that determine the type of news that is presented in news
Ownership of the medium, the medium's Funding, Sourcing of the
news, Flak, and 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 the model postulates as the cause of media bias.
This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help
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A 1938 propaganda of the New State depicting Brazilian President
Getúlio Vargas flanked by children. The text on the bottom right of
this poster translates as: "Children! Learning, at home and in school,
the cult of the Fatherland, you will bring all chances of success to
life. Only love builds and, strongly loving Brazil, you will lead it
to the greatest of destinies among Nations, fulfilling the desires of
exaltation nestled in every Brazilian heart."
Poster promoting the Nicaraguan Sandinistas. The text reads:
"Sandinista children: Toño, Delia and Rodolfo are in the Association
of Sandinista Children. Sandinista children use a neckerchief. They
participate in the revolution and are very studious."
Of all the potential targets for propaganda, children are the most
vulnerable because they are the least prepared with the critical
reasoning and contextual comprehension they need to determine whether
a message is propaganda or not. The attention children give their
environment during development, due to the process of developing their
understanding of the world, causes them to absorb propaganda
indiscriminately. Also, children are highly imitative: studies by
Albert Bandura, Dorothea Ross and Sheila A. Ross in the 1960s
indicated that, to a degree, socialization, formal education and
standardized television programming can be seen as using propaganda
for the purpose of indoctrination. The use of propaganda in schools
was highly prevalent during the 1930s and 1940s in Germany, as well as
Stalinist Russia.
John Taylor Gatto asserts that
modern schooling in the USA is designed to "dumb us down" in order to
turn children into material suitable to work in factories. This ties
into the Herman & Chomsky thesis of rise of Corporate Power, and
its use in creating educational systems which serve its purposes
against those of democracy.
Anti-Semitic propaganda for children
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 League, of which
97% of all German teachers were members in 1937. The League 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, Der Giftpilz
(translated into English as 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 66,606,000 inhabitants in the German
Reich, of whom 499,682 (.75%) were Jews."
First World War
First World War propaganda
Fake news website
Music and political warfare
Overview of 21st century propaganda
Propaganda by country
Propaganda in North Korea
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Appeal to fear
Propaganda of the deed
Criticism of advertising
Burying of scholars
Fake news website
Word of mouth
Cult of personality
Critical thinking and
Parsimony (Occam's razor)
Theories of deduction
Intermittent or partial
Climate of fear
Divide and rule
Good cop/bad cop
Moving the goalposts
Setting up to fail
You're either with us, or against us
Abusive power and control
Jewish mother stereotype
Social engineering (blagging)
Antisocial personality disorder
Borderline personality disorder
Carrot and stick
Gaming the system
Histrionic personality disorder
Narcissistic personality disorder