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Top 10 Insights on Learning about Propaganda

1. Just as humans, the definition of propaganda has evolved over time

At the beginning of the course, it became known to me that there are many different definitions of propaganda. This is because it depends who is defining it as well as when they were defining it due to the evolution of the definition of propaganda throughout the years. For instance in the 1920s, propaganda was described as “the spread of controversial attitudes” (Welch, 2003). This definition matters because it is different than decades after, a more recent definition from the 1990s, which describes propagandas as, “a deliberate attempt to persuade people to think and then behave in a manner desired by the source; public relations, a branch of propaganda, is a related process intended to enhance the relationship between the organization and the public. Both in turn are related to advertising.” (Welch, 2003). These definitions have changed due to the growth of public relations and social media. Over the course, I learned that both of these definitions are still relevant today because propaganda does state a controversial opinion, but it also tries to persuade the viewer to have the same opinion through the seven propaganda devices we learned (Hobbs & McGee, 2014, p. 59) .

2. There is a negative connotation that goes along with propaganda

Throughout this course, I learned that there is a negative connotation that goes hand in hand when thinking about propaganda. This is mostly due to the fact that propaganda is always bias and is also controversial (Welch, 2003). Propaganda has the intention of manipulating the attitudes and intentions of the viewer and is mostly used negatively. We often see a lot of negative propaganda during elections. Frequently, one candidate is putting down their opponent in order for their audience to change their views. They want the viewers to negatively think about their opponent, and positively think about them, hoping to have an impact on them changing who they will vote for. This matters because it is important to realize during elections as well as in day to day life when propaganda is used to diminish an opponent the creator of the propaganda has a bias view and wants those who come across the propaganda to share the same view as them. As viewers we need to be able to recognize the effects it has and be able to make a decision for ourselves.

3. Contrary to popular belief, propaganda can be used positively and beneficially

Although when we think of propaganda we think of something negative, propaganda has the potential to be used positively as well. As we saw from the Kony 2012 video, it is possible to shine light on the bad things happening in the world and truly make a difference. With the use of social media, specifically Facebook, the narrator Jason was about to play on the audiences emotions and share videos that viewers were able to better connect with Jacob. The scene in the video that appealed to my emotions the most was when Jacob talked about how he would rather be killed than to continue living the life he currently is living in Africa. The pain he is feeling definitely transfers through the video to the viewer. You can hear how upset he is when he is crying talking about his brother who was killed right in front of him. When watching this scene I felt so many emotions, I was devastated that he was going through what he was going through, I was angry that he was going through it, and I wanted to help him. By sharing this video with the world there was a positive effect because everyone knew about Kony 2012. People shared what they could through Facebook and other channels and they wanted to help. By watching this video I learned that not all propaganda is negative and that it could be used for good as well and when good propaganda is spread it can be life changing for those involved.

4. News- Real or Fake?

Unfortunately, Fake News is currently a concept that Americans are far to familiar with these days. In this course I learned the difference between misinformation and disinformation. Misinformation is information that is unintentionally inaccurate whereas disinformation is intentionally inaccurate information that is purposefully misleading to the audience (Jack, 2017, p. 2-3). Fake news is a negative form of propaganda because it is false information circulating which is turn, widely deceives audiences. Fake news is very important to be able to point out and it matters in every aspect of our lives, especially in the digital age we are living in. One of the largest contributors to fake news, the President of the United States, Donald Trump. Recently on April 27, 2019, President Trump strikes with fake newsonce again when he stated “The baby is born… the mother meets with the doctor. They take care of the baby, they wrap the baby beautifully. And then the doctor and the mother determine whether or not they will execute the baby.” (Greenberg, 2019). This is disinformation, it is intentionally completely inaccurate. President Trump deliberately made these accusations in order to gain more supports against late term abortions. This is a form of propaganda because his statement evoked emotions in listeners everywhere. This statement obviously appealed to emotions due to Trump stating they would decide to execute the baby after the mother has given birth. This evidently isn’t true and coming from a voice of power it was widespread.

5. Computational Propaganda is used with the purpose of intentionally shaping the views and beliefs of the audience

I have learned that computational propaganda is used to intentionally distribute misleading information and manipulate one’s audience. A great example of this is how in the UK’s general election, there was use of bots on the popular dating app, Tinder, to influence votes at the election. The bots pretended to be users and were vigorously trying to persuade other users to vote for a particular party under false pretenses. This situation used computational propaganda by intentionally distributing messages to users the bots matched with on Tinder is order to chat them messages telling them which party they should vote for under false pretenses (Gorwa & Guilbeault, 2017). This matters because with the potential of bots influences users by attacking them through various apps, the public need to be more cautious and become more aware of the influences the messages that are being sent can potentially have on a larger scale.

6. Ask yourself this question: Does this entertainment double as a form of propaganda?

This is an important question I have learned to start asking myself before, during, and after watching movies. There are movies that some viewers would describe as entertainment, while others would define it as a form of propaganda. A wonderful example of this is how Palestinians have been discriminatorily depicted in many forms of entertainment and are often made out to look like bad people. Although Palestinians are often portrayed in this way through various forms of entertainment, it goes to show how hatred is ingrained in modern American society has toward Palestine by these pieces of media still earn admiration from viewers, critics, and have monetary successes (Ata, 2019). Some beloved movies that are transparent examples of this True Lies, The Siege, Don’t Mess With the Zohan, World War Z, and 7 Days in Entebbe. The derogatory way Palestinians are depicted in these films translates to the audience and they feel inclined to believe that the way they are shown in the movies is how all Palestinians are as a whole. I learned that even though movies can represent a demographic of people that is not an accurate depictions of who the society is as a whole. By having propaganda surround us all over the internet and everywhere we go, it is important to know the influence it can have on us.

7. Popular news sources, one of propagandas many forms

As I have learned during this course, news can be presented as a form of propaganda. News is propaganda because it is told from the bias of the news reporter and news channel telling it. For example, the news sources who are known to be more liberal are PBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, and USA Today. The news source that is known to be more conservative is Fox News. This news platforms are going to report the news either through the lens of a liberal or a conservative. As people who view this media we are more inclined to watch and follow along with the network who’s views we align with. In the videowe watched it shows how Fox is always in Trumps corner because they share the same Conservative views. Trumps most trusted advisers have come directed from Fox and friends he calls this show “the most influential show in news”. Trump also points out in this videothat fake news is coming from news sources such as CNN and MSNBC by calling them disgusting and corrupt, while at the same time sharing approval for Fox News. This was very important to learn because certain news channels will not report on everything, and they will report their stories with the bias they have through the lens they want you to see the story through.

8. Virality is an indicator of change

Virality is the tendency of information to be circulated quickly from internet user to internet user. Propaganda often goes viral when it is controversial and users have differing opinions on the matter. In an article I read about the #MeToo movement, I learned that “offline punishment signals your virtue only to whoever might be watching, doing so online instantly advertises your character to your entire social network and beyond” those who participated in the #MeToo movement on Facebook were signaling to their friends and followers that they considered themselves to be in agreement that neither harassment or abuse are reprehensible. The author believes that in order for the movement to take off, people need to be comfortable talking with one another and not posting on social media (Hempel, 2017). I also learned that due to the amount of outrage viewers felt from reading the countless stories that many women shared, our Facebook feeds filled up with posts, “we become numb to tragedies because we’re unable to process the emotions they engender at the speed with which they arise” as well as “expressing outrage leads us to feel the emotion more deeply and consistently”. I learned that in order for a movement or information goes viral, there needs to be people behind it backing it up in order to keep the information moving forward and to create change. This matters because in the digital age we are living in, it is very possible to make change happen and spread the word for movements like #MeToo to make women feel more comfortable with sharing their stories.

9. Memes are a modern form of propaganda

I have learned that memes are the new form of propaganda. Memes are usually a funny image, video, or text that is spread rapidly via internet users. This is a form of propaganda because it is clearly stating an opinion paired usually with a image. The memes visual is shown that the man is looking suspicious. By the meme using the phrase “illegal alien” this is implying that the author is not an illegal alien and a conservative. The message that this meme is depicting is that it is ironic that Trump and others are so set on deporting illegal immigrants, when in general U.S. citizens are busy destroying the environment in California. Americans should care more about protecting our environment than protecting our country from “illegal aliens”. I learned that memes can be an impactful source of propaganda and often times go viral and are able to get their messages across through humor. This matters because I think it is an effective way of spreading your message through many different channels of social media.

10. Terrorists use propaganda to recruit members

Over the course of this class, I have learned that terrorism can be presented through propaganda via online social media channels. As I read in the article What Goes Viralby Brooking and Singer, it was made clear to me that ISIS was able to gain recruits easier due to social media. The group of terrorists was able to recruit at least 30,000 foreign fighters to the battlefields of Syria and Iraq from over 100 countries. By ISIS delivering messages virally over the Twitter platform they were able to communicate spread widely. Through the use of an app created by the group their followers and fans were able to follow long with the destruction and by linking their personal accounts to the app it allowed ISIS to post on their behalf, thus spreading their propaganda messages more widely to even more users. The strategic use of social media this group utilized was what enabled them to turn into the operation they have become. This matters because ISIS was the first terrorist group to exploit their use of social media and propaganda is this way, but they will not be the last. Social media and the internet are both wonderful places for bring people together, until they are used as terrorism to intimidate and promote violence against civilization.

Works Cited

Ata, I. (2019) The anti-Palestinian propaganda you don’t know you’re consuming. The Nib.

Brooking, Emerson & Singer, P.W. (2016, November). War Goes Viral: How Social Media is Being Weaponized. The Atlantic.

Gorwa, R. & Guilbeault, D. (2017).Tinder

nightmares: The promise and peril of political bots. Wired UK.

Greenberg, Jon (2019). Donald Trump repeats, falsely, that doctors, mothers decide to execute live babies after birth. Politifact.

Hempel, J. (2017, October 18). The problem with #metoo and viral outrage. Wired.

Hobbs, R. & McGee, S. (2014). Teaching about

propaganda: An examination of the historical roots of media literacy. Journal of Media Literacy Education 6(2), 56 – 67.

Jack, Caroline (2017). Lexicon of Lies: Terms for Problematic Information. New York: Data and Society.

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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