by Jon Atack

Propaganda has come to mean the negative use of public relations. It covers deceptive advertising, political spin and fake news.

In the 1930s, the US Institute of Propaganda Analysis came up with a useful description of the methods used in the invidious art of propaganda. Here is our reworking of those methods:

Name-calling – using personal insults and slogans to attack an enemy or an unwelcome opinion, rather discussing the facts or answering criticism.

Glittering generalities – describing one’s own party, system, candidate or opinion in broad, glowing terms, keeping away from specific issues and instead using emotional appeal to align the cause with the highest possible ideals. This approach is typical of political speech-making.

Transfer – the propagandist aligns the target with a previously unrelated person or idea, using negative associations to malign and positive associations to boost credibility. This is similar to the advertising technique called “positioning”.

Testimonials – personal accounts of satisfaction from others, which may or may not be scripted or even faked to create the illusion that millions of others support the candidate, viewpoint, or cause. Marketeers and cult groups commonly use testimonials as if they were evidence. Science rejects such testimonials as anecdotal evidence.

Plain Folks – presenting the desired opinion as coming from “just plain folks,” that is, someone the audience can respond to and identify with.

Bandwagon – “Everyone else is on board, what about you?” It gives the false impression that the idea being sold is universally accepted. It is an aspect of Cialdini’s law of consensus, as is the testimonial.

Fear – similar to the phobia induction in a high-control group: the propagandist uses the fear of dire consequences, often exaggerated, to move whole populations into a compliant, fervent state of paranoia.

The Institute for Propaganda Analysis also published the “ABCs of Propaganda,” a six-point checklist designed to help us asses the value of any message, whether from a government or political party, a religious group, a corporation, or a news organization:

  • Ascertain the conflict element in the propaganda.
  • Behold your own reaction.
  • Concern yourself with today’spropaganda associated with today’s conflicts.
  • Doubt that your opinions are “your very own”.
  • Evaluate, with the greatest care your own propaganda.
  • Find the facts before you come to any conclusion.

This is a useful way to evaluate information to see if it is fake news.

Read more about propaganda here.