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Propaganda, in the broad sense of the term, refers to information that serves a particular agenda. The information may be true or false. If true, it is often one-sided and fails to paint a complete picture. Examples would include information released by any corporation (so-called corporate propaganda), and, in many cases, national histories as taught to school children.

In a narrower and more common use of the term, propaganda refers to deliberately false or misleading information that supports a political cause or the interests of those in power. The propagandist seeks to change the way people understand an issue or a situation, for the purpose of changing their actions and expectations in ways that are considered desirable by the propagandist. In this sense, propaganda serves as a corollary to censorship, in which the same purpose is achieved, not by filling people's heads with false information, but by preventing people from knowing true information. What sets propaganda apart from other forms of advocacy, is the willingness of the propagandist to change people's understanding through deception, rather than persuasion.

In an even narrower, less commonly used but legitimate sense of the term, propaganda refers only to false information that is meant to reassure people who already believe. The assumption is that, if people believe something that is false, they will constantly be assailed by doubts. Since these doubts are unpleasant, people will be eager to have them extinguished, and are therefore receptive to the reassurances of those in a position of authority. For this reason propaganda is often addressed to people who are already sympathetic to the agenda.

The term orginates with the Roman Catholic Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (sacra congregatio christiano nomini propagando), the department of the pontifical administration charged with the spread of Catholicism and with the regulation of ecclesiastical affairs in non-Catholic countries (mission territory).

Techniques of Propaganda Generation

These techniques are used to create messages which are convincing, but false. Many of these same techniques can be found under Logical Fallacies, which makes sense, because it's essential that the propagandist use arguments which are convincing but not necessarily valid.

Some time has been spent analyzing the means by which propaganda messages are transmitted, and that work is important, but it's clear that information dissemination strategies only become propaganda strategies when coupled with propagandistic messages. Identifying these propaganda messages is a necessary prerequisite to studying the methods by which those messages are spread. And that's why it is essential to have some knowledge of the following techniques for generating propaganda.

/Appeal to authority -- Appeals to authority cite prominent figures to support a position idea, argument, or course of action.

/Bandwagon -- Bandwagon-and-inevitable-victory appeals attempt to persuade the target audience to take a course of action "everyone else is taking." "Join the crowd." This technique reinforces people's natural desire to be on the winning side. This technique is used to convince the audience that a program is an expression of an irresistible mass movement and that it is in their interest to join. "Inevitable victory" invites those not already on the bandwagon to join those already on the road to certain victory. Those already, or partially, on the bandwagon are reassured that staying aboard is the best course of action.

/Obtain disapproval -- This technique is used to get the audience to disapprove an action or idea by suggesting the idea is popular with groups hated, feared, or held in contempt by the target audience. Thus, if a group which supports a policy is led to believe that undesirable, subversive, or contemptible people also support it, the members of the group might decide to change their position.

/Glittering generalities -- Glittering generalities are intensely emotionally appealing words so closely associated with highly valued concepts and beliefs that they carry conviction without supporting information or reason. They appeal to such emotions as love of country, home; desire for peace, freedom, glory, honor, etc. They ask for approval without examination of the reason. Though the words and phrases are vague and suggest different things to different people, their connotation is always favorable: "The concepts and programs of the propagandist are always good, desirable, virtuous."

/Rationalization -- Individuals or groups may use favorable generalities to rationalize questionable acts or beliefs. Vague and pleasant phrases are often used to justify such actions or beliefs.

/Intentional vagueness -- Generalities are deliberately vague so that the audience may supply its own interpretations. The intention is to move the audience by use of undefined phrases, without analyzing their validity or attempting to determine their reasonableness or application

/Transfer -- This is a technique of projecting positive or negative qualities (praise or blame) of a person, entity, object, or value (an individual, group, organization, nation, patriotism, etc.) to another in order to make the second more acceptable or to discredit it. This technique is generally used to transfer blame from one member of a conflict to another. It evokes an emotional response which stimulates the target to identify with recognized authorities.

/Over simplification -- Favorable generalities are used to provide simple answers to complex social, political, economic, or military problems.

/Common Man -- The "plain folks" or "common man" approach attempts to convince the audience that the propagandist's positions reflect the common sense of the people. It is designed to win the confidence of the audience by communicating in the common manner and style of the audience. Propagandists use ordinary language and mannerisms (and clothes in face-to-face and audiovisual communications) in attempting to identify their point of view with that of the average person.

/Testimonial -- Testimonials are quotations, in or out of context, especially cited to support or reject a given policy, action, program, or personality. The reputation or the role (expert, respected public figure, etc.) of the individual giving the statement is exploited. The testimonial places the official sanction of a respected person or authority on a propaganda message. This is done in an effort to cause the target audience to identify itself with the authority or to accept the authority's opinions and beliefs as its own.

/Stereotyping or Labeling -- This technique attempts to arouse prejudices in an audience by labeling the object of the propaganda campaign as something the target audience fears, hates, loathes, or finds undesirable.

/Scapegoating -- Assigning blame to an individual or group that isn't really responsible, thus alleviating feelings of guilt from responsible parties and/or distracting attention from the need to fix the problem for which blame is being assigned.

/Virtue words -- These are words in the value system of the target audience which tend to produce a positive image when attached to a person or issue. Peace, happiness, security, wise leadership, freedom, etc., are virtue words.

/Slogans -- A slogan is a brief striking phrase that may include labeling and stereotyping. If ideas can be sloganized, they should be, as good slogans are self-perpetuating.

See also doublespeak.

Techniques of Propaganda Transmission

Common methods for tramsmiting propaganda messages include news reports, government reports, historical revision, junk science, books, movies, and posters.

Adolf Hitler's propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels was considered a master in this area.

Obviously much more needs to be said about this.

see also: propaganda film, Logical fallacy, political media

Much of the information found in Propaganda techniques is take from: "Appendix I: PSYOP Techniques" from "Psychological Operations Field Manual No.33-1" published by Headquarters; Department of the Army, in Washington DC, on 31 August 1979. I'm sure there are copies of this whole manual on the web, I'll try to find a good link soon