Propaganda is a powerful tool that pushes the agenda of a few onto the minds of many. More than a standard advertising or marketing campaign, propaganda is dangerous because it can and has been used to sell war to nations of people, including the United States of America.
Utilizing mass media, propaganda is a way for powerful entities, such as the government or big business, to influence social and political issues relating to race, gender, and foreign affairs. While there are legal regulations in place that uphold marketing and advertising practices, propaganda relies heavily on hyperbole and falsehoods to be effective. On the other hand, marketing is the most effective when it’s honest. This is the key difference between marketing and propaganda.
The Encyclopedia Britannica describes propaganda as a “dissemination of information — facts, arguments, rumors, half-truths, or lies — to influence public opinion.” Why is it so important to know propaganda and be able to identify it in the media we consume? This is an obvious question, seeing as though no one should want lies and manipulation to influence their thoughts and beliefs, whether the topic is as serious as the nation going to war or as trivial as which toothpaste to buy.
Propaganda functions through the spread of imagery (like World War II Nazi comic strips), catchphrases (“weapons of mass destruction”), and selective information. This is especially true when nations are at war and use visuals and language that depict their enemies as villainous or fearsome. This not only sways the public to support conflict, it inspires citizens to enlist. Less extreme examples of propaganda are the attack ads that air during every election.
It’s important to identify truth from lies (and mere opinions) in the media. This distinction is important online, where most content goes unmonitored and some of it is posted by bots or zealots. It’s also important to check the source of information and articles. If no source exists, or it’s not reputable, chances are the information is questionable. Additionally, not all photos are real – they can be either staged or outright photoshopped.
When it comes to any piece of media, propaganda or not, it’s important to view it through a lens of discernment, seek out objective points of view (keeping your own confirmation biases in mind), and come to your own conclusions. It’s too easy to get sucked into a whirlwind of fear-mongering or deceptive information masquerading as facts. However, with care and diligence, people can remain armed with the truth and free thinking.