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Top 10 Insights on Learning about Propaganda

Top 10 Insights on Learning about Propaganda

By Nathan Richardson

1. What is P

ropaganda? How Much of What We See in Media is Propaganda?

The definitions of propaganda have changed and evolved throughout history. However, the definitions of propaganda all have certain similarities. They all discuss propaganda as something that is meant to persuade the masses to follow a certain movement or belief. Propaganda also is more concerned with emotions instead of facts to persuade people. Propaganda is used to appeal to people's emotions since that will get the most people to be influenced, since people gravitate towards something that makes them feel a certain way, which is different from just listing off facts. This is relevant for me due to social media and the internet and what I am exposed to on a daily basis. It is also relevant today with the emergence of "fake news," and trying to find the truth under all of the propaganda we see today with the United States and the Trump administration. This is important for me and the rest of society to understand in order to find the truth. Propaganda is seen all over media as it is anything that is meant to persuade people, such as advertisements and other forms of media.

2. The Dangers of Fake News and Disinformation in Today’s Media!

Disinformation has been used in propaganda in media throughout history, but is to an even greater extent in today’s technological age. People often spread disinformation in order to get views and profit. For example, people often click on things that may not be true but catch their attention with a catchy title, subject, and/or picture. This is also used in politics, especially during the Trump presidency, which is how I realized how much of an issue this was and then taking this class opened up my eyes even more (will be discussed in more detail later in the list). This especially is prominent in social media. People spread fake news to gain attention and get shares and followers, usually with the intent to go viral and/or make money. Fake news and disinformation is a major issue because it is getting more and more difficult to determine what information and media is true and what is false.

One of the most chilling stories in part II of Ryan Holiday’s book Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator is just how easy it is to create fake media content and get people and companies behind it. He was able to use his knowledge to help his friend's charity by creating fake or exaggerated content. He was able to get small news outlets to accept the story, which influenced many people to get behind the content and donate money. This just shows how easy it is to make successful fake content. Ryan Holiday shows how anyone can do it.

In part 1 of Holiday’s book he discusses the tactics used by a media manipulator like himself. I find the most important and interesting tactics, he discusses is tactic 3: give them what spreads, not what’s good, tactic 4: help them trick their readers, and tactic 6: make it all about the headline. Tactic 3 states how it’s important for whatever the content is, it has to reach a lot of people and go viral to be successful. This can be achieved by creating polarizing content that appeals to people’s emotions. The goal is to have the propaganda “a life of their own and get attention, links, and new readers with the least work possible.” Tactic 4 is used to trick people into reading certain content and media. People us loaded questions as headlines because it allows people to understand what an article is about and also asking them a question people will want an answer to. Using a question also allows propagandists to say something false without getting criticized for it. They also want to generate a lot of comments by using polarizing content. Tactic 6 is very important because the headline is what everyone sees first and influences them to click on it or not. The headline is seen everywhere on the web and can spread fast, no matter how reliable or true it is. The headline has to appeal to everyone. A headline must show what the article is about and its central ideas and must be presented in an exciting manner in just a few words. I can relate to this because I personally have clicked on ridiculous headlines despite knowing it is fake. I have done this usually when I’m bored and curious about what the article actually says despite knowing its nonsense.

3. The Effects of Virality

Propaganda is displacing journalism because of how common it is in today's society. Propaganda does not have to follow the same rules as journalist and so they can put out almost anything they want, no matter how shocking or untrue it may be. This gives propagandist more freedom in how they spread their messages and get them to go viral, which in today's society can be more effective do to how easy it is to trick people with misinformation. Propagandists want to reach as many people as possible with their message, so going viral is the best way to achieve this. Propagandist’s also make their works with ambiguous meanings, in order to leave room for different interpretations and meanings by the people. This can allow content to spread and go viral because it is simple and ambiguous. People share ambiguous propaganda to see what others think and see if their interpretation are valid. Ambiguous propaganda is a way to get a lot of people to see it and talk about and allow it to go viral. People can also interpret it differently, so it is possible for people with different views to relate to it. For example, viewers of the KONY 2012 campaign interpreted it differently based on their judgment of the genre of the propaganda. People who interpreted the genre as journalism looked at KONY 2012 as very biased. However people who saw the video as an example of advocacy had a more positive look at it and its message. The saw it as bringing awareness to a cause whose goal is justice for Joseph Kony's crimes. It appealed to the viewer’s emotions and got them to stand up against evil and make positive change and justice to the world.

4. How the News can be a Form of Propaganda

Chomsky’s Propaganda Model is used in the News to push a certain agenda/message. Chomsky’s Model follows five filters used by propaganda, which include centralized ownership, funding from advertising, establishment sources, flak, and enemies. The News in the media that show uncomfortable truths or ideas that could damage establishment power get flak. This is when establishment power kills media that negatively effects their power by discrediting the source, trashing stories, and diverting the conversation. This allows authorities to exclude inconvenient stories from the public. Enemies function in the propaganda model in the way it creates common enemies and fears among society in order for the higher powers to maintain power and influence. Common enemies help to shape public opinion.

The propaganda in the News can also be positive and is not only relevant to fake news. When the News provide truth and provide factual information and criticism of people in power during times of conflict such as with the Vietnam War and Watergate, people can make their opinions based on fact. When journalists do their job correctly and accurately it gives the media more power and the people of power then have less power over media.

5. The Propaganda of the Trump Presidency

The Trump presidency and campaign has used fake news and disinformation to persuade the public. Trump continuously lies in order to discredit something or someone or to make himself and his campaign look good. Even his most ridiculous lies are believed by some due to how much it is repeated. Trump repeats the same lies so much and they are talked about so much that people begin to get used to hearing them and accept them as truth. Trump also calls any media that is against him, “fake news,” in order to discredit the information they are presenting. He is using media and propaganda to trick the American people into following him. He lies and says its truth and then calls many reliable news outlets “fake news.” Trump is able to really make his immoral methods effective with today’s social media presence. Trump is constantly tweeting and being talked about on Twitter. Trump and Roger Stone even targeted unreliable, click-bait-like media sites to try to influence simple minded people who only get their news from places like Twitter, Info Wars, and/or Buzz Feed.

I have seen the Trump presidency over the last three years and have been disgusted at the man and his methods. This class has allowed me to see the true reasons for Trump’s actions, in terms of what he has to gain from lying and media manipulation so much and how that is actually very effective in manipulating people to follow you. I hope people become more aware of the extent and issues behind fake news and disinformation in the media.

6. The Truth about Propaganda within Sponsored Content

A new technique propagandist’s use today in advertising is native advertising, which is where the advertising is embedded within the media content itself. Native advertising makes sense as a way to make online advertising successful in today's society, since many people ignore online advertisements separate from the content. However I can see how it can be dangerous in terms of making the story more about money instead of truth and real journalism. People must be educated about native advertising in order to differentiate what is and isn't native advertising and how to be aware of bias that may come along with it.

Another interesting aspect of sponsored content used as propaganda in today’s technological age is with the rise of online influencers creating fake sponsored content to gain attention and legitimacy. I think it can be effective for influencers who want to grow their brand and eventually get sponsored by real companies. Itis a way to speed up the process and gain followers much faster due to fake credibility. However this strategy can also backfire. Even though it may be easier to gain followers faster by faking it until you make it, but it also saturates the market. People are faking sponsorship partially to make more money later when they gain followers and credibility, but due to so many fake sponsorships, advertisers are paying influencers less to advertise their products.

7. The Effect Trolls and Bots have on Propaganda

Today so much information is spread through media and viewed by millions of people all over the world, especially through social media platforms. Advances in technology have caused computational propaganda to occur and spread disinformation through bots in order to influence people to do something that fits the propagandist’s agenda. These bots and trolls are used to spread an idea and influence people to think a certain way. Propagandists will use them to discredit information that negatively effects their agenda or spread false information in order to help their agenda and start a dialogue and gain attention by society. This is a major issue in how people perceive certain things and makes it difficult to determine what is true and what is not.

I have experienced this in my own life as I go through social media and media in general. I have seen posts from what seem to be bots or trolls. And learning about the extent of this problem in today’s society, I’m sure I have seen comments and posts from bots and thought they were real people.

8. The Propaganda within Our Favorite Movies and Television Shows

Propaganda is seen in many movies and television shows. These forms of entertainment media often have a specific message of ideology that it is presenting to the viewer. A movie may be promoting American ideals and patriotism such as films like Top Gun and American Sniper. Movies and television is also a great place for companies to advertise in. Movies often have advertisers that pay to have their product in a film or TV show. I have seen this all over entertainment media. I often see people drinking a Pepsi or driving a new Honda or something else that seems to blend in with the story (a form of native advertising), but is there for a purpose. And that purpose is for companies to advertise and sell their product(s).

9. How Terrorism is a Form of Propaganda

Terrorism is often used as a form of propaganda. There have been live video recordings of horrific terrorist acts that spread across media and sometimes go viral. This is a way for terrorists to spread their message and ideology around the world. To them it is a way to make their act of violence seen and spread throughout the world. People spread these horrible videos for a variety of reasons such as reasons of shock, to spark dialogue, to show others so you’re not alone, as well as for the way America is so desensitized to seeing violence and may even think what they are seeing is fake like the violent movies and television people are so used to seeing. People also use propaganda to show the terrible aftermath of these tragedies, like the video we watched in class showing some of the survivors of the terrorism act at the Arianna Grande concert a couple years ago.

10. How is Propaganda Beneficial to Society

Propaganda can also be very beneficial to society. Lots of propaganda media is spreading a good message with true information that helps and educates people on an important message. For example there are many examples of public interest propaganda. For example, in a short documentary we watched for class was From One Second to the Next, which followed different people’s tragic stories associated with texting and driving that end up causing an accident and people to lose their lives or have permanent brain damage. This is an example of propaganda that warns people of the very real dangers of texting while driving, and how one’s life can change in less than a second just because a driver was distracted by a text. This type of propaganda is beneficial to society and helps to make the community safer and more informed about an important topic/issue.

I have seen lots of propaganda in media that does in fact have a positive message that helps create awareness, dialogue, and/or helps people in some way through its message and topic of discussion.

Work Cited

Al Jazeera English. (2017, March 2). Noam Chomsky – The 5 Filters of the Mass Media Machine. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34LGPIXvU5M

Holiday, Ryan. (2013). Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator. London: Portfolio/Penguin.

Hwang, Tim, Disinfo Portal. (2018, August 16). Tim Hwang on the Future of Propaganda. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AuzFoXHmt2c

Lorenz, T. (2018, December 18).Rising Instagram stars are posting fake sponsored content. The Atlantic.

Oliver, John. Last Week Tonight: Native Advertising. HBO. https://mediaeducationlab.pathwright.com/library/com-416-propaganda/85209/path/step/53939745/

Welch, D. (2003). Propaganda, definitions of. In N. J. Cull, D. H. Culbert, D. Welch, Propaganda and mass persuasion: a historical encyclopedia, 1500 to the present. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

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