Propaganda is a concerted set of messages aimed at influencing the opinions or behavior of large numbers of people. Instead of impartially providing information, propaganda in its most basic sense, presents information in order to influence its audience.
The most effective propaganda is often completely truthful, but some propaganda presents facts selectively to encourage a particular synthesis, or gives loaded messages in order to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. The desired result is a change of the cognitive narrative of the subject in the target audience.Propaganda shares techniques with advertising and public relations.
Advertising and public relations can be thought of as propaganda that promotes a commercial product or shapes the perception of an organization, person or brand. Propaganda was often used to influence opinions and beliefs on religious issues, particularly during the split between the Catholic Church and the Protestants. 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 the term propaganda was also used by the founders of the nascent public relations industry to describe their activities. This usage 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 which 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”. In English, “propaganda” was originally a neutral term used to describe the dissemination of information in favor of any given cause.
Propaganda, in a narrower use of the term, connotes deliberately false or misleading information that supports or furthers a political (but not only) cause or the interests of those with power. 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.
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 can be classified according to the source and nature of the message.
White propaganda generally comes from an openly identified source, and is characterized by gentler methods of persuasion, such as standard public relations techniques and one-sided presentation of an argument. Black propaganda is identified as being from one source, but is in fact from another. This is most commonly to disguise the true origins of the propaganda, be it from an enemy country or from an organization with a negative public image.
Common media for transmitting propaganda messages include news reports, government reports, historical revision, junk science, books, leaflets, movies, radio, television, and posters. In the case of radio and television, propaganda can exist on news, current-affairs or talk-show segments, as advertising or public-service announce “spots” or as long-running advertorials.
A number of techniques which are based on 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 propaganda messages are transmitted.
That work is important but it is clear that information dissemination strategies only become propaganda strategies when coupled with propagandistic messages. Identifying these messages is a necessary prerequisite to study the methods by which those messages are spread and efforts are made to not hurt individual sentiments. Hence a simple word like ‘propaganda’ has a deeper and important role in this modern world.