There was an exhibit at the British Library in London titled “Propaganda: Power and Persuasion.” It was a fascinating tour through the uses of propaganda – for good and evil – in the 20th and 21st centuries.
For most of us, we see or hear “propaganda” and instantly think of it in negative terms. In truth, it simply means attempting to “propagate” an idea; hence the term. As a result, it can be used to incite war or fight disease, foster unity or stir discrimination.
Exhibit - Governments - Institutions - Users - Propaganda
As the exhibit demonstrated, governments and national institutions have been “the most prolific and expert users of propaganda as they strive to validate and justify their actions, build support for their aims and influence the behavior of populations.”
Yet the advent of the internet and the accompanying social media has made propaganda available as a powerful tool in almost anyone’s hands—for good or ill. But let’s consider its most common use:
So with that in mind, courtesy of the exhibit, here is a “user’s guide to basic techniques” to look out for:
Authority - Person - Idea - Symbols - Power
1. Establish authority. Link a person or idea with existing symbols of power and authority that people understand and are comfortable with. The use of appropriate symbolism can generate deep psychological resonances.
2. Exploit existing beliefs. People are much more receptive to messages that build on attitudes and beliefs they already hold dear. This technique plays on class, cultural, religious and national stereotypes.
Appeal - Patriotism - Sentiments - Benefits - Nation
3. Appeal to patriotism. Play up nationalist sentiments and emphasize benefits to the nation.
4. Create fear. In a state of fear your audience is more likely to believe you. The technique is particularly effective if you play on existing anxieties and prejudices against people, groups or behaviors to create scapegoats.
Humor - Audience - Smile - Laugh - People
5. Use humor. Making your audience smile or laugh can make powerful people, countries and...
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