When people think of propaganda they assume that it is made up of outright lies. This misconception makes them more susceptible to propaganda. They are looking for blatant deception and are less vigilant of how propaganda is actually delivered. Effective propaganda is usually delivered through half-truths and truths presented out of context.
Assertion: Stating something with enthusiasm or energy and presenting it as a fact when it is not true. It is implied that the statement needs no proof and is beyond question. For example until it was proven otherwise the tobacco companies insisted that smoking was not hazardous to your health. They kept saying this despite mounting evidence that they were in fact not telling the truth.
Card Stacking: Only presenting information that is positive to an idea or policy and omitting any information contrary to it. For example, before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor the Japanese militarists insisted that the United States could not possibly match the mighty Japanese military.
Glittering Generalities: Consistently linking terms like “democracy”, “freedom”, or “patriotism” to other ideas to give those other ideas a more positive connotation.
Name calling: Trying to arouse prejudice against others who do not agree with the speaker. For instance, during the Bush administration many people on the left called Bush a “Fascist”. During the Obama administration many people on the right called Obama a “Socialist”. Names the left calls the right: crazies, ignorant, stupid, liars, uneducated, religious fanatics, and more. Names the right calls the left: elitists, dirty communists, knee-jerk liberals, unpatriotic, big spenders (on government), and more.
Pinpointing an enemy: Choosing a specific group to be the enemy to motivate people to follow one’s policies. For instance, “greedy capitalist”, or “lazy welfare mother”.
Plain folks: Using plain language or referring to plain folks to indicate that what one is saying is accepted by just about everybody.
Transfer: Linking something negative to another person or group to cast a shadow on that group or person. For instance, linking “draft dodger” to George Bush or “not being a citizen” to Obama.
Repetition: Repeating an outrageous claim or half-truth over and over until it is accepted by the public. For instance, the claims that black people were born inferior and therefore deserved first slavery and then discrimination because of their color.
Exaggeration: Exaggerating the positives for oneself and exaggerating the negatives for the other.
Presenting false data: This is currently very common in politics. The propagandist will refer to a research study, but the study was performed by a “researcher” who is paid by the propagandist. For instance, many research studies of new medication are financially supported by pharmaceutical companies. This also occurs in the presentation of statistics. The propagandist refers to data that support his position and other data is conveniently ignored.
Demonizing the other side: This is one of the most common and destructive tools of political propaganda.
- Once the other side is demonized, compromise becomes impossible. People become afraid to compromise with the “devil”. Good legislation depends on compromise. Demonizing inhibits legislators from working together on solutions.
- It leads to extreme positions. If the other side is demonized or “evil” then only by being at the extreme opposite side of the spectrum can one be “good.”
- Demonizing implies an ultimate good and evil. This invites a person to adhere to one’s positions with religious fervor.
Using anger and fear: Many political messages are transmitted by creating fear or anger in the person receiving them. Strong anger and fear distorts clear thinking.
These common methods of propaganda are used in political campaigns by the majority of candidates. They are used because they work. As long as the public is subject to these propaganda tools, candidates and parties will continue to use them. This can change with consistent efforts to educate the population about propaganda. Education can most effectively be done with children. Children can learn to ignore propaganda if they are effectively taught the tools of propaganda in schools and at home by their parents.
It is questionable whether eduction in general makes one less susceptible to propaganda. Jacques Ellul, one of the 20th Century’s outstanding experts on propaganda, stated he thought intellectuals were more subject to propaganda for three reasons: educated people read a lot more and thus are more exposed to propaganda, they feel they need to have an opinion about many different issues, but don’t have the time to research all these areas. So they integrate many second hand opinions as their own. Thirdly, they mistakenly assume that they are capable of making judgments in many areas without access to facts and without realizing how pervasive propaganda is and how subject to it they are. It appears that the only way to resist propaganda is to study propaganda directly to insure some immunity from it.