The Top Ten Most Insightful Facts on Propaganda

The Act of Understanding Propaganda through the University of Rhode Island’s COM416 Course

The University of Rhode Island offers a very insightful course on the ins and out of Propaganda (COM416). The acts of propaganda is an essential process to learn in order to evaluate ethical, social, and moral issues found throughout communication. In this following blog, the connections on what I thought were the most important ideas from the propaganda course and how they are relevant to my life moving forward are just a few things that will be broken down into what I found to be the top ten most important facts. Including the Defining Propaganda, Origins of Propaganda, Resilience in the Face of Propaganda, Fake News, Disinformation and Conspiracy Theories, Virality, News, Social Media, Networked Propaganda, and Terrorism. 

  1. Defining Propaganda

Defining propaganda was one of the first in-depth concepts we learned during this particular communications course. It set the outline to the course as a whole as well as gave specified detail on what the course was going to be about. The definition and act of propaganda has been altered and used throughout time. While John Clews established in his book on Communist Propaganda Techniques, that the “Modern synonyms for propaganda include ‘lies,’ ‘deceit,’ and ‘brainwashing.’ (Clews). While the Penguin Political Dictionary (1957) defines propaganda as a “statement of policy or facts, usually of a political nature, the real purpose of what is different from their apparent purpose…a statement by a government or political party which is believed to be insincere or untrue and designed to impress the public at large rather than to reach the truth or to bring about a genuine understanding between opposing governments or parties.” (Penguin Political Dictionary). This background knowledge of propaganda allowed myself to learn and become more aware of something I see regularly. For example, every time I read the newspaper and hear about political issues such as Donald Trumps accusations of Barack Obama not being an American citizen; In the future I can put a term to the use of Trump’s accusations. Propaganda allows one to realize untrue facts and set the people straight faster. 

2. Origins of Propaganda

Edward Bernays’ taught myself personally, a great deal on the aspects of propaganda. Edward taught me more about myself, specifically how “we are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.” These governed minds are formed by the politics themselves. They mold us of our opinions and habits. “If the public if better informed about the processes of its own life, it will be so much the more receptive to reasonable appeals to its own interests.” More specifically this lesson from Edward Bernays’ shows that if we can look past the persuasion techniques of others, we could have a clearer mind when propaganda is in use. (Bernays). That is why for the future the knowledge of propaganda that I have learned throughout this course I will spread. People should be aware of their surroundings. They should have a right to their own opinions and not be manipulated into thinking or believing a certain way just because others do. 

3. Resilience in the Face of Propaganda

This section of the COM 416 course taught me the ten step plan of propaganda. Showing how to analyze the acts of propaganda more in depth. The “ ten step plan of propaganda analysis is identification of ideology and purpose, identification of context, identification of the propagandist, investigation of the structure of the propaganda organization, identification of the target audience, understanding of media utilization techniques, analysis of special techniques to maximize effect, analysis of audience reaction, identification and analysis of counter propaganda, and completion of an assessment and evaluation,” (O’Donnell). This ten step process reminded me of the time I did not fully see the use of propaganda. It is important to identify and investigate information you feel questionable on, which is something I never did before. For example  identifying hidden messages throughout media and music is hard to catch. America actually plants secret anti-immigration messages in foreign pop songs. The article 6 Insane Examples of Modern Propaganda by Major Countries spoke upon this allegation. Saying the 2014 song “La Bestia” embedded hidden messages in Spanish throughout the lyrics. “It’s one of several songs that the US government commissioned to be produced and snuck onto Hispanic radio playlists in an attempt to convince people that attempting to reach the Land of the Free means crossing the apparently Mordor-like hellscape of Central America, and it’s better to deal with the cartels,” (Dodge). In the future I plan to be more aware towards identifying hidden concepts we hear regularly. 

4. Fake News, Disinformation & Conspiracy Theories 

The problem of Fake News is continuous throughout society. CNN is a huge company for example that is always stated as being ‘fake news,’ especially by the American president Donald Trump. The New Yorker stated “It’s sad that, in the wake of the election of a President who doesn’t hesitate to tell his followers things that simply aren’t true, we are not even talking about any of this. If people really think that something should be done about the fake-news problem, they should be thinking about government as the institution to do it,” (Lemann). If I could name one of the handfuls of information this course has taught me, it is that for the future look towards the National Public Radio for reliable news casting. Especially since the National Public Radio has minimal government funding. 

5. Virality 

The topic of problems with the #metoo campaign and the viral outrage lead to an alarming amount of knowledge for myself in particular. It taught me that confrontation can be hard for many. Although the reading in the course The Problem with #MeToo and Viral Outrage by Jessi Hempel, makes me wonder why we are so afraid of speaking out. Are we afraid we will end up hurting the person/people who harmed us? Yet, I have learned over the past few months that we should not be afraid to tell the truth. Jessi Hempel said it best herself  that we need to “transform our culture into one where every woman can say without fear—and with certainty that she will both be believed and received in good faith—“me too.” But for that to happen, we must put down our devices and talk to one another,” (Hempel). This is a huge key idea that needs to be practiced throughout everyone lives. 

6. News as Propaganda

The News as propaganda taught in the course spoke upon an Educational Model by Noam Chomsky. His propaganda model was found to be talking about authoritarian countries. Including Five Filters on the Mass Media Machine and an explanation towards the aspects of news’s role on propaganda. Thus explanation being that media manufactures our content, they tell us what those in power need them to tell us so we can fall in line…democracy is staged,” (Chomsky). A specific example I found that analysis this ides of propaganda in the news was when our class watched the news on current events and how they informed us about political leaders or those of higher power being the ones who arrange and in a way manipulate our thoughts. This aspect is something to look for in the future, we need to monitor the programs we are watching on television.

7. Social Media and Propaganda 

Social media spreads propaganda worldwide, which is something I came to actuality on after taking COM416. Instagrammers’ create fake sponsored content and they can get away with this because the more followers they gain, the more credibility they are assumed to have. One example found in the article read in class; Rising Instagram Stars are Posting Fake Sponsored Content was “Sydney Pugh, a lifestyle influencer in Los Angeles, recently staged a fake ad for a local cafe, purchasing her own mug of coffee, photographing it, and adding a promotional caption carefully written in that particular style of ad speak anyone who spends a lot of time on Instagram will recognize. “Instead of [captioning] ‘I need coffee to get through the day,’ mine will say ‘I love Alfred’s coffee because of A, B, C,’” Pugh told me. “You see the same things over and over on actual sponsored posts, so it becomes really easy to emulate, even if you’re not getting paid,” (Lorenz). From this example it taught myself particularly is the strategy of ‘faking it till you make it’ is not an abiding strategy. Being genuine and working hard can get you anywhere, as for basing your self-worth on a ‘middle-man’ aka a sponsor can only get you so far.

8. Computational Propaganda

Computational propaganda follows the saying ‘they say, I say.’ One thing I learned from this course topic was the use of information and images being spread among media is clearly constructed to sway the audience in a particular direction. Human cognitive biases are not considered when displaying information, the viewer/readers opinion is transformed into the way the media wants it to be portrayed. Propaganda is not meant to have a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ choice, its intent is to influence the individual to support the way the higher power wants it to go. (Gessen). I myself use social media regularly, from Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter. Everyday I come across pictures and posts by celebrities and other influencers that I do not even come to question what they put up on their media. Recently after the 2019 Coachella, an influencer (Gabbie Hanna) faked appearing at the event to receive likes and gain more followers. The lies in which were shared by the celebrity influencer impacted people wither they realized it or not. Gabbie Hanna intended to stage her media posts of being at Coachella to remind people that life isn’t always perfect as it looks on social media, which is a good moral of the story. Especially since social media is filled with propaganda even if they are brave enough like Gabbie to admit it or not. Celebrities everyday influence others from their looks, to their clothes, to their lifestyle at a whole. Everybody is not perfect and they all have their faults, which is why computational propaganda is such a big ordeal to learn. One thing to remember in the future is that computational propaganda is intended to manipulate the minds of others into believing what you see is real, like most over the top celebrity social media posts. Even celebrities lie, look at Bow Wow, he faked being on a private jet on his media and in actuality was riding commercial. 

Gabbie Hanna’s Propaganda Instagram Post

9. Networked Propaganda

Networked propaganda can fall into many categories. For example partisan propaganda, disinformation, and falsehood. One study we researched during the course called Breitbart-led Right-Wing Media Ecosystem Altered Broader Media Agenda stated “Attacks on the integrity and professionalism of opposing media were also a central theme of right-wing media. Rather than “fake news” in the sense of wholly fabricated falsities, many of the most-shared stories can more accurately be understood as disinformation: the purposeful construction of true or partly true bits of information into a message that is, at its core, misleading.” This quote elaborates on the familiar repeated falsehoods, or in this specific case it speaks upon disinformation as being the accurate descriptive word of ‘fake.’ Using little lies throughout the stated truth is set to be misleading. This course lesson helped me evaluate what a poor decisions it is to make when I think I should lie to someone or about something. Fabricated falsities are hurting not only others but yourself in the end. 

10. Terrorism as Propaganda 

Feminist terror, anti-Muslim, and social media being weaponized for ISIS are just three acts on how propaganda inflicts terrorism. In particular “The emergence of a truly interconnected world has long been hailed as a step toward cross-cultural cooperation and global enlightenment. As societies communicate more freely, the thinking has gone, empathy will be nourished, the truth will be easier to find, and many causes of conflict will wither. Thanks to the mobilizing power of social media and the resultant “wisdom of crowds,” citizens will exert more direct control over their governments, helping solve disputes without need for violence. The age of social media, in other words, should be an age of peace and understanding,” (Brooking & Singer). If we have a (online) source to help influence for the good, why are we using it to enforce the bad? In the future, everyone should encourage the acts in which we can eliminate terrorism, not support it.

Conclusion:

Overall throughout the COM416 Propaganda course here at the University of Rhode Island, I have learned a lot. The course offered a very insightful look on the aspects of Propaganda. The acts of propaganda is an essential process to learn in order to evaluate ethical, social, and moral issues found throughout communication.The top ten most important facts, including the Defining Propaganda, Origins of Propaganda, Resilience in the Face of Propaganda, Fake News, Disinformation and Conspiracy Theories, Virality, News, Social Media, Networked Propaganda, and Terrorism helped me develop into a more rounded person. It allowed me to analyze my life now and how I see the media as well as others acts. Overall I highly recommend anyone to take this course or a similar course like this one. It will be a eye-opening lesson for anyone. 

Video: Top Three Highlights from This Blog

-Uploaded onto Twitter- @kerrycom416

References: 

Benkler, Y., Faris, R., Roberts, H., & Zuckerman, E. (n.d.). Study: Breitbart-led right-wing media ecosystem altered broader media agenda.

Bernays, E. (1928). Propaganda.

Brooking, T., Singer, P. W., Brooking, E. T., & Singer, P. W. (2016, October 11). War Goes Viral.

Chomsky, N. (2017, March 02).

Dodge, B. (2016, March 20). 6 Insane Examples Of Modern Propaganda By Major Countries.

Gessen, M. (2018, December 18). Why the Russian influence campaign is so hard to understand. The New Yorker.

Hempel, J. (2017, October 18). The Problem with #MeToo and Viral Outrage | Backchannel.

Jowett, G., & O’Donnell, V. (n.d.). Propaganda and Persuasion.

Lemann, N. (2017, June 19). Solving the Problem of Fake News.

Lorenz, T. (2018, December 18). Rising Instagram Stars Are Posting Fake Sponsored Content.

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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The Revolving Door: Summary/Analysis

The video; The Revolving Door Between Fox News and the Trump Administration by the Washington Post starts off displaying the link between Donald Trump’s hires and Fox News. Donald Trump calls out MSNBC and CNN on their ‘fake news’ while worshiping the Fox News station. One reasoning behind Donald’s support for Fox News could be because of the people appearing on the news site are now hired under Trump. For example; former Fox News associate, Heather Nauert is now UN Ambassador, Tony Sayegh, the assistant secretary to public affairs at the department of treasury appeared regularly as a guest on the network and Mercedes Schlapp, director of strategic communications, was a frequent guest and contributor on Fox. Many more of the Fox News guests and employees were featured throughout the short clip. Demonstrating the connection between Donald Trump and Fox News, ultimately showing one reason for his support in the Network.

One vision to the connection of support could possibly be because of the control Donald Trump can gain. Especially the support and control on the information being spread on the network. One of the biggest issues is ‘Fox vs the Media.’ The network is the alignment towards the agenda or control of the future and current information being spread. While no specific opinion was being displayed among the video, the small details that prevailed were the overall connection between Fox and the White House.

Tips and Tricks from Trust Me, I’m Lying by Ryan Holiday

Written by: Kerry Noonan

Part one of Ryan Holiday’s Trust Me, I’m Lying, involved multiple tips and tricks for using media  to your benefit. The three most interesting tricks I personally felt that Ryan described in his book were Tactic Two: Tell Them What They Want to Hear, Tactic Three: Give Them What Spreads Not What’s Good, and Tactic Nine: Just Make Stuff Up (Everyone Else is Doing It). 

Tactic Two consists on telling them what they want to hear. Journalist use HARO; Help a Reporter Out, as a way to gather ‘self-interests sources.’ With that in mind they are able to write blogs, articles, or news information based on peoples general attentiveness and information, since most journalist rarely witness the incident personally.  Tactic Three involves giving them what spreads, not what’s good, meaning finding information that will attract audiences and go viral. Bloggers and other small writing sources do not have resources that will give them information that will go viral automatically, they have to do research. “If the quality of their content doesn’t matter to bloggers, do you think it’s going to matter to marketers?” (Holiday). The trick also insists that the most powerful information to be spread throughout the web is anger, specifically because it draws attraction and attention. Lastly Tactic Nine includes just make stuff up, everyone else is doing it. Ultimately speaking that finding an angle on a story is important. The story needs to be interesting, intriguing and exciting in order to draw ones attention. The downfall is the small story that once existed can become a big headline of exaggerated information. Yet, it is a good way to make a story interesting and many media producers do it. One example of tactic nine is Donald Trump, specifically at the beginning of his political career when he questioned Barack Obamas citizenship of the United States.  

All in all Ryan Holiday’s Trust Me, I’m Lying, included many riveting tricks towards the use of success in the media. Marking a new information for myself personally and it allows me not only to be more aware of others writing but also my own. 

Could This Be Your Way to Cheat Death?

It is said to believe obvious lies make great propaganda, although sometimes we can be so gullible to the lie and believe the image or article is true. The image posted below features the most obvious lie yet some people may still believe it.


The Mind of Media’s image post stated “This is an advertisement that tries to have consumers believe if you drink POM then you will be able to cheat death by being so healthy for so long that you wouldn’t ‘ever die’,” (MindOverMedia). This advertisement is point blank a lie, there is no such truth to drinking pomegranate will lead to you becoming immortal. The Mind of Media site also stated that “this is propaganda because it is trying to reach a large amount of people and influence their habits when purchasing drinks by getting them to believe that this drink (POM) is so healthy it can help you ‘cheat death’ and if people believe and purchase the product then the company makes a profit off of the consumer’s false believe about the product,” (MindOverMedia). Ultimately showing that the purpose of this propaganda use was to increase the sales of POM juice. Targeting an audience of everyone and anyone, since all of our lives will eventually come to an end.

After more research this advertisement was said to have received ’23 complaints’ because of its misleading exaggeration on health benefits. The Advertising Standards Authority noted “that the claim was ambiguous and if read as a health claim rather than an obvious untruth, it was capable of objective substantiation…the evidence also provided by the company about antioxidants in pomegranate juice ‘fell short’ of showing it led to longer life,” (Sweney). All in all anyone who believes this advertisement is beneficial, will be awfully disappointed in the results and it could even cause harm to their everyday life. If the consumer of this product decides to drink POM juice everyday because they believe it will help them cheat death they will be forced to suffer some risks. Yes, pomegranate juice is a great antioxidant, yet it can interact negatively with prescription drugs and increase glucose levels if consumed daily; and those are just two of many risks.

Connecting back to my #COM416 course readings, in Edward Bernays’s Propaganda he wrote “the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power over our country,” (Bernays). This concept shows the advertisement’s act to relate its product to one thing every human being in this world cannot overcome, truly shows the power it can have. The false hope this advertisement sets out embellishes there product as a powerful object. Overall if you could cheat death by drinking pomegranate juice, wouldn’t you?… I’m sure we all would. I’m sorry to be the barer of bad news but immortality is not real and the only thing true in this advertisement is it is 100% propaganda. #fakenews.

References

  • Bernays, E. L. (n.d.). Propaganda.
  • Factory, A. (2017, August 20). If You Drink Pomegranate Juice Everyday; This Is What Happens To Your Body. 
  • MindOverMedia (n.d.). Immortality with POM.
  • MindOverMedia (n.d.). What is Propaganda?
  • Sweney, M. (2009, April 08). ‘Cheat death’ drink ad banned.

Fake News, Disinformation & Conspiracy Theories

Bad News, is a game that allows you to embody the role of a fake news-monger. Building a persona, tracking your ‘followers’ and ‘credibility’ meters diligently are the ways in which to win the game. Yet, BE CAREFUL not to obviously lie or you will loose numerous ‘followers’. This game truly emphasizes the aspects of fact news and propaganda. While playing, if my followers decreased I would be told I was not ‘aiming for an ideological filter bubble.’ Meaning I was not posting topics that were politically or economically appealing to the audience. Although after playing this game for over thirty minutes I found as though Bad News taught me things I should not do. I should not spread fake news about planes crashing, missing family members and dangerous child vaccinations. I should share truthful messages with my media, blogs and any other sites I am apart of. It is not fair to mislead people with negative propaganda. The poor seven thousand three hundred and fifty six ‘followers’ I gained from this spread of fake news just made me feel bad. Although on the positive side I guess it did show me a lot about myself while playing- that I am not built for one to spread fake news.