How Propaganda Persuades You & 5 Things You Can Do About It

In a bid to curtail the pollution of my social feeds from hoaxes, slanted messages, and blind regurgitation of propaganda, I hope sharing these points might encourage some to stop and think about what they read and share… just maybe.

What is propaganda

Propaganda is deliberate and systematic communication that aims to persuade. Representing the creator’s agenda, propaganda is slanted by a specific perspective in an attempt to “achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.

Propaganda asserts simplified messaging, presenting debatable ideas as facts. Through the use of graphics and symbols, effective propaganda manipulates target audiences by appealing to ingrained cultural biases. Propaganda tends to make emotional appeals that stir a response within the viewer.

What can qualify as deliberate, organized, slanted messaging that aims to get you to do something?

Propaganda comes in many forms. Below are a few common examples:

Political Campaigns

Sparking emotions (usually morale outrage) or appealing to ingrained cultural biases, political campaigns aim for (and sometimes discourage) you to vote for someone.

Advertising

Playing on your sense of individual identity or, conversely, desires to belong advertising aims for you to buy something. Learn more on how your ego is manipulated to encourage consumption.

Special Interest Promotions

Plucking ye ol’ heart strings, the aims of special interest promotions range from soliciting donations to changing behaviors or even taking sides in a conflict

News Coverage

Packaged in a thin veneer of impartiality, news coverage is the propaganda echo chamber, repeating the messaging of interest groups and politicians making it seem more true to an unsuspecting audience.

Why does propaganda work?

Propaganda is designed to manipulate. Talented propagandists know what makes you tick and how to use that to persuade you. Below are a few reasons why we are susceptible to propaganda’s persuasive magic. (Click here for a very long list of cognitive biases that plague us humans.)

Repetition

The more we hear something, the more likely we are to accept it as truth.

Confirmed Beliefs

We are more likely to believe something if it supports our existing views or understanding of the world.

Fatigue

We are more likely to blindly believe propaganda messaging if consumed when tired.

Conformity

The more people around us believe something, the more likely we are to believe it too.

Simplicity Asserted

We are a lazy creature. Propaganda provides simple explanations that can easily be grasped, as such are, even if untrue – even more so if the simple argument is conveyed seemingly indisputable with authority.

Emotions

Humans are governed by emotions. Easy to incite, Easy to incite, emotions are proven to lead us to certain actions. Emotional appeals are commonly used in propaganda.

Five Things You Can Do About It

Knowing that you are susceptible to propaganda is only part of the battle. Below are five things you can do to mitigate its impact on you:

  1. Stop believing things unquestioningly. Just because it appears in your Facebook feed or was covered on the news, doesn’t make it true. Stop, question and think.
  2. Identify the aim of the message. Did it make you feel a certain way? Is the message encouraging you to do or think something – if yes, what? Don’t you feel manipulated?
  3. What is the source of the message? What do you know about them? Find out more. Who are they? What do they stand for? Who funds them? What is their aim?
  4. List the arguments made through the message – can you think of any counter arguments? How much do you really know about the subject? Go learn more – from multiple sources. Fact check for accuracy. Every disgusting new disease warning is just a Snopes away from refute.
  5. Listen to opposing views. Just because you think you are right, doesn’t make it so. Read the perspective from the other side, and try to suspend your ingrained views while doing it.

About Author

Alicia Wanless

La Generalista is the online identity of Alicia Wanless – a researcher and practitioner of strategic communications for social change in a Digital Age. Alicia researches how we shape — and are shaped — by a changing information space. As the Director of Strategic Communications at The SecDev Foundation, Alicia develops campaigns and strategies for engaging beneficiaries in outreach and behavioural change. Her work includes developing a training program that deals with verifying information and the spread of content online, and has supported projects in the Middle East, Vietnam and the post-Soviet space.

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