Propaganda is communication—through the news media, advertisements, books, songs, and other formats—that is intended to alter opinions, beliefs, values, or ideas.
What is Propaganda?
It can be difficult to differentiate propaganda from simple news reporting or storytelling, and that is why propaganda is often so effective. Governments have historically used propaganda to alter public opinion by, for example, encouraging support for a war or tax policy. However, governments are not the only entities that engage in propaganda. Corporations might produce propaganda to encourage support for a policy or product, and schools might engage in propaganda to alter student behavior.
While propaganda can be overt and direct in telling people what to do, contemporary propaganda is often more subtle. For example, a media personality might structure an interview question such that the interviewee can only give an answer supporting government policies. Governmental entities might selectively use statistics or only release information that is favorable to a particular position.
Propaganda has a strong negative connotation because of its use in gaining support for unseemly practices and because it is often used to obfuscate the truth. However, propaganda can also have a positive effect. Public health campaigns, awareness-raising commercials, and campaigns to end abuse are also examples of propaganda. Propaganda does not necessarily have to be factually incorrect. Propagandists frequently selectively cite facts or choose one particular fact to repeat many times.
Examples of Propaganda
Labeling something as propaganda is often a politically-charged act because propaganda has such strong negative connotations. Most people, however, agree that the Nazis engaged in propaganda to support the imprisonment and extermination of Jewish people during WWII. In more recent times, some people have argued that the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq war involved propaganda; while only a few Americans believed that Iraqis had weapons of mass destruction at the beginning of the campaign, most believed that they did at the campaign’s end. American troops also papered the country with leaflets in the hope that this propaganda would encourage a favorable opinion of the US among Iraqis. Political organizations, protesters, and dissident groups have historically used propaganda to further their cause.
- Bernays, E. L., & Miller, M. C. (2005). Propaganda. Brooklyn, NY: Ig Pub.
- Shah, A. (n.d.). Iraq war media reporting, journalism and propaganda. Global Issues. Retrieved from http://www.globalissues.org/article/461/media-reporting-journalism-and-propaganda
Last Updated: 08-18-2015
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