Propaganda Techniques...How YOU and I are manipulated

Propaganda techniques
Excerpts from SourceWatch

(Please note: This is simply a draft, final post to follow.)

Propagandists use a variety of propaganda techniques to influence opinions and to avoid the truth. Often these techniques rely on some element of censorship or manipulation, either omitting significant information or distorting it.

Rhetorical Techniques

During the period between World Wars I and II, the now-defunct Institute for Propaganda Analysis (IPA) developed a list of common rhetorical techniques used for propaganda purposes. Their list included the following:


Doublespeak is language deliberately constructed to disguise its actual meaning, such as euphemisms.


Fear is one of the most primordial human emotions and therefore lends itself to effective use by propagandists. Specific types of fears include xenophobia (fear of foreigners), fear of terrorism, crime, economic hardship, ecological disaster, disease, overpopulation, invasion of privacy, or discrimination. In order to instill fear, uncertainty and doubt, propagandists exploit general ignorance.


Glittering generalities are words that have different positive meaning for individual subjects, but are linked to highly valued concepts. When these words are used, they demand approval without thinking, simply because such an important concept is involved.


Name-calling is a form of ad hominem attack that draws a vague equivalence between a concept and a person, group or idea. By linking the person or idea being attacked to a negative symbol, the propagandist hopes that the audience will reject the person or the idea on the basis of the symbol, instead of looking at the available evidence.



An ad hominem argument is a fallacy that involves replying to an argument or assertion by attempting to discredit the person offering the argument or assertion. Simply, it is a refutation of a proposition, based solely upon some unrelated fact about the person presenting the proposition.


A common crisis management tactic is to apologise in an attempt to defuse a public controversy and pave the way for the company or individual to rebuild their reputation.


astroturf can be defined as a "grassroots program that involves the instant manufacturing of public support for a point of view in which either uninformed activists are recruited or means of deception are used to recruit them." Unlike genuine grassroots activism which tends to be money-poor but people-rich, astroturf campaigns are typically people-poor but cash-rich. ...they use sophisticated computer databases, telephone banks and hired organizers to rope less-informed activists into sending letters to their elected officials or engaging in other actions that create the appearance of grassroots support for their client's cause.


"Bad Science" usually refers to information presented as a scientific finding that is not based on research using recognized scientific methods. In conversation, speeches or texts, "bad science" may refer to flawed science that does not necessarily reflect a particular bias. "Bad science" can refer to poor research, biased research or to faulty information that might not even be based in scientific research. Propagandists can exploit flawed science to suggest conclusions not supported by research. Propagandists sometimes filter the otherwise unimpeachable work of unbiased scientists, presenting only findings favorable to the propagandist's goals. Misrepresented by a propagandist, "good science" might become bad science. Money, opportunities for recognition and other interests can interfere with the work of scientists. Agendas, affiliations and preconceptions can bias the work of professional researchers. Propagandists can more easily exploit the work of biased scientists. At the extreme, scientists can become propagandists, primarily producing research to support an employer's interests.



Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's minister of propaganda, is alleged to have stated that if a lie is repeated enough times it would become widely accepted as truth.


the "Establishment of a person, product, or idea as something members of a culture must know about-that is, as a cultural phenomenon"




Controlling the message can be accomplished through various means, including setting the agenda: "telling the truth and answering questions before they were asked, prepared statements and designated subject matter experts as spokespersons, and getting key messages out early to gain the media's trust." The "public relations professional is in charge of controlling the message," according to Ingrid Cummings of Rubicon Communications. "It is critical to develop a set of key message points: simple declarations of fact relevant to the fact pattern. Once they have developed key message points, professionals practice them and keep delivering them succinctly and repeatedly in response to media inquiries."



Disinformation is deliberately misleading information announced publicly or leaked by a government, intelligence agency, corporation or other entity for the purpose of influencing opinions or perceptions. Unlike misinformation, which is also a form of wrong information, disinformation is produced by people who intend to deceive their audience. A group might plant disinformation in reports, in press releases, in public statements or in practically any other routine, occasional or unusual communique. Disinformation can also be leaked, or covertly released to a source who can be trusted to repeat the false information. A common disinformation tactic is to mix truth, half-truths, and lies. Disinformants sometimes seek to gain the confidence of their audience through emotional appeals or by using semi-neutral language interlaced with threads of disinformation.



Echo chamber is a colloquial term used to describe a group of media outlets that tend to parrot each other's uncritical reports on the views of a single source, or that otherwise relies on unquestioning repetition of official sources.


A front group is an organization that purports to represent one agenda while in reality it serves some other party or interest whose sponsorship is hidden or rarely mentioned.





Misinformation is, simply put, information that is not true. It is sometimes associated with propaganda and disinformation, but there are differences. Propaganda sometimes uses true information, and disinformation is a form of misinformation that is deliberately untrue. Misinformation differs from disinformation in that it is "intention neutral."


Photographic manipulation as a tool utilized by propagandists is characterized by use of images to manipulate the minds of voters.


Policy laundering is the use by government officials of reciprocal treaties or other agreements with other countries to justify violating legal restrictions on their powers within their own jurisdictions. In essence, "The treaty made me do it."



Political Code Words or phrases, which on the surface sound reasonable and innocent enough, can be used to bolster a particular partisan agenda


Product placement is a form of advertisement, where branded goods or services are placed in a context usually devoid of ads, such as movies, the story line of television shows, or news programs. The product placement is often not disclosed at the time that the good or service is featured.





When quoting another source, it is important to quote enough of the passage or speech to convey the true meaning. Quoting out of context, conversely, is a technique that uses isolated statements pulled from their original context in order to distort and usually contradict the intended meaning. This technique can be used in several different ways: * to discredit the author of the quote * to discredit the idea itself * to gain credibility for an idea that is not supported by the full context


Disinformation in the form of forged "captured documents," "intercepted cables," and "confessions" of tortured prisoners are important ingredients of government propaganda. They permit useful propaganda themes to be disseminated in dramatic fashion at government discretion, and they allow press space and air time to be preempted at the expense of news the government finds inconvenient.


If you repeat something over and over, no matter how outrageous it may be, people will come to believe there's some truth in it. "But the most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over." -- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, p. 184 "The purpose of propaganda is not to provide interesting distraction for blasé young gentlemen, but to convince… the masses. But the masses are slow moving, and they always require a certain time before they are ready even to notice a thing, and only after the simplest ideas are repeated thousands of times will the masses finally remember them." -- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, p. 185


The straw man fallacy occurs when a statement misrepresents or invents an opponent's view (sometimes even the opponent is invented) in order to easily discredit it. The straw man fallacy does not consist of stating an opponent's position, but only in stating it inaccurately. The straw man argument is intended to give the appearance of successfully refuting the original argument, thus creating the impression that it has refuted a position that someone actually holds. A straw man is constructed expressly for the purpose of knocking it down

Wikipedia lists several different ways to set up a straw man: 1. Present one of your opponent's weaker arguments, refute it, and pretend that you have refuted all of their arguments. 2. Present your opponent's argument in weakened form, refute it, and pretend that you have refuted the original. 3. Present a misrepresentation of your opponent's position, refute it, and pretend that you have refuted your opponent's actual position (for an example see this Google debate on Communism and the Environment). 4. Present someone who defends a position poorly as the defender, refute their arguments, and pretend that you've refuted every argument for that position. 5. Invent a fictitious persona with actions or beliefs that are criticised, and pretend that that person represents a group that the speaker is critical of.


"If you can construct believable stories with enough truth in them to smear somebody royally, boy, is there a pot of gold waiting for you in D.C.," Triplet said. "Spin doctors are nothing new in politics, but a certain type -- equal parts scriptwriter, opposition researcher and ruthless street fighter -- is increasingly in demand, and for good reason..."


"Celebrities can be very powerful tools in increasing publicity around a launch or campaign, particularly when you do not have a strong news story and need a famous personality to drive initial interest in your messages..."


Similar to a white paper talking points are ideas, usually compiled in a short list with summaries of speaker's agenda for public or private engagements. Public relations professionals sometimes prepare "talking points" for executives or other corporate clients to help the client focus their public comments to agreed "key messages". These key messages are often developed based on opinion polling and focus group research.

Vagueness is a frequent indicator of propaganda in news reporting. "Remember the following first rule of disinformation analysis: truth is specific, lie is vague," writes Gregory Sinaisky. "Always look for palpable details in reporting and if the picture is not in focus, there must be reasons for it."



Viral marketing is a technique that uses word of mouth or email to reach and affect an audience. Some forms of viral marketing have existed for centuries. They are mentioned in annals of Greek Athenian histories and are a common strategy in marketing and media relations techniques. 

The goal of a viral marketer is to create "buzz" about a product or idea, so that the idea spreads widely. If effective, viral marketing may require very little effort on the part of the propagandist, as the recipients of the message become the primary agents who spread it to other people. On the other hand, the weakest thing about this form of marketing is that it is hard to control. Like the "telephone game" that children play, the message may change as it passes from ear to ear.

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