Understanding Propaganda

Propaganda – It’s everywhere. What is propaganda and what isn’t? Often when we hear the word “propaganda” it evokes different things for different people. This is one of the key points behind propaganda and its crafting. I’ve become very adept at spotting propaganda which most may not even be aware is propaganda. As a service I wanted to pass this information on to you so that you may spot it and avoid its influence.

Propaganda can take many forms, messages and degrees of quality. Outright bad propaganda can be easily spotted, but the definition of bad propaganda will vary depending on its intended target audience. To you, it may appear as bad or blatantly obvious, while to its intended target(s) it does its job.

Some forms are easily recognized because they are blatant lies; others can be much more difficult to recognize. The very first concept that the information consumer must become aware of is propaganda itself is neither inherently negative or positive. It’s all about how it effects the target that ultimately determines if it’s OPFOR (opposition forces) or BLUFOR (blue forces, the good guys in a scenario). The word itself has no positive or negative connotations, only the information contained within a particular piece of propaganda.

In order to understand propaganda, the basis you need to understand is that there are two basic types: internal and external propaganda.

Internal propaganda is, as the name implies, meant for internal distribution. Chief reasons could be for the bolstering of morale or relaying of important messages critical for operational success to other branches that exist lower down from the chain of command. A perfect example of this can be seen in things such as old comic-style military manuals.

While such a thing to the intended consumer might not seem like propaganda – it is. Remember, the whole idea is to present information in a fashion that influences you to act in a certain way. In this case, it’s clearing a rifle jam as seen in the image above.

External propaganda is meant as the name implies, external consumption. This type of propaganda is far more insidious in its intent. Most often times it is meant to demoralize or influence “low information” individuals. The key manner in which this propaganda works is by targeting perceived weaknesses or emotional ties. You can see this in the example below from the Korean war.

In order to understand how propaganda is generated, I must cover some of the key things an organization or individual uses when creating propaganda. These are in no particular order: Fears, Hates, Anger, Loves, Shame or Embarrassment, Dissatisfaction, Cultural Norms, Values and Frustrations.

Appeals can take the form of the following:

  • Rewards and Punishments – “If you do X, you will get Y,” or “If you do not do X, Y will happen to you.”
  • Expertise – Speaking from a position of authority
  • Gifts – “If you comply or do X, you will get something in return.”
  • Debt – Calling in past favors. “You owe us because we did X for you.”
  • Aversive Stimulation – “If you do not do X, we will keeping doing Y.”
  • Moral Appeal – The common ground tactic. “We are all Americans after all. You’re an American too, right?”
  • Positive and Negative Altercasting – “Good people do X; bad people do Y.”
  • Positive and negative Esteem of Others – “Make your team proud,” or “You wouldn’t want your family to be disappointed in you, would you?”
  • Fear – “Bad things will happen to you if you chose to do X.”

The next item to consider is how this propaganda will be distributed. The distribution method, as well as, the time available for the target audience to consume it – can be a limiting factor. No one wants their enemy’s propaganda floating around; BLUFOR forces may be trained to recognize it and, if possible, to confiscated it or to block it from consumption if it’s electronic in nature.

Propaganda can be broadcast, drawn, verbally transmitted from target to target, electronically spread, such as over the internet, or any sent to a target audience by any other method not covered. This article is not meant to be comprehensive, but just to give you the basics.

When trying to scope out propaganda in your daily life, look for the above themes. You will see it everywhere. It’s even used in marketing to get you to buy a product. Ever see an “As Seen On TV” ad? Appeal to frustration much?
Only you, as the consumer, can decide if information is meant to influence you or if it is good for you. That, of course, entirely depends on what you are doing or any organizations you may be a part of, as well as, their end goal objectives.

The important thing for you, as the reader, need to walk away with from this article is how to be able to recognize propaganda. This will, in turn, allow you to filter it out and either to eliminate or to lessen its influence on you. Understand that not all propaganda is meant for you. Through knowledge you can keep propaganda from influencing you, which is why it is critical for you always to educate yourself on a vast array of subjects, so as not to be caught ignorant and therefore easily susceptible to misinformation campaigns.

If information exists outside of raw statistic or numerical data, it’s probably propaganda. That’s not to say statistics and numbers can’t be manipulated for the purposes of propaganda, but just like solving a mathematical formula, so long as it’s done properly, the resultant finished product can be only one answer – the real truth behind things. This is often times why in authoritarian countries, such as China, statistical information is manipulated both internally and externally, so as to hide the real truth of things. Remember, the ultimate goal of any propaganda is to influence your actions. Stay vigilant always.

You may sleep, but the enemy never does.

-By Otto

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