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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