The Wonders of Propaganda

How could I not read an article in USA Today with a headline like this? Psychologists: Propaganda works better than you think.

It's true, of course. I find propaganda is a remarkably effective tool, and it's far more sophisticated in democracies than it is in totalitarian societies (see Chomsky here and here and a million other places, and also see David Barstow's reports on the media and the Pentagon -- video, article, article -- for a well-known and recent example). But what I found most interesting in the USA Today piece was the assertion that accurate information may not counteract propaganda very well and actually could help transmit it. If that's true, would it make sense to be more assertive in communications to drive the agenda and then to ignore critics (or at least the vicious and extreme ones)? I suppose this strategy wouldn't necessarily work in all cases, and there are certainly some very effective techniques to deposition attackers. But just tossing out good information in a attempt to thwart the bad stuff may not be a good use of time. Having the good information well documented so you can rapidly point to it for those interested is required, of course, but it's the never-ending iterative arguing that I think I'm done with. I've been trying this for about a year now, and I find it more effective than my earlier pattern of responding to everything in an attempt to change minds. I gave up. Plus, it's not as exhausting.

Propaganda fascinates me. I keep track here: http://blogs.sun.com/jimgris/tags/propaganda

Comments:

Hi Jim,

It looks like this post has been heavily comment spammed.

There has been a number of articles by David Roman in Communications of the ACM about the power of compelling misinformation over science on the web. This is a similar problem where the misinform-er is possibly less malicious.

In the case of outright propaganda, I think the only effective way to deal with it is to lull the perpetrator into a sense of false security, so they shoot their mouth off, then attack them directly based on what they have said. The problem is that this mostly involves ignoring the problem which can case plenty of damage in itself.

The standard response most people take is to fight propaganda with propaganda, but that destroys your credibility as much as those you argue against.

Posted by Edward Middleton on February 01, 2010 at 12:33 AM JST #

Fighting propaganda with propaganda = politics. And, yes, I agree, both sides look the same in that process. And I like the technique of lulling perpetrators into a sense of false security, too. A good way to do that is to not necessarily respond directly initially, but instead to ask questions to drag them along a bit so they dig their hole deeper. Then pounce and gut. So, you don't have to ignore, really, but you can gently prod them along with questions. :)

Posted by Jim Grisanzio on February 03, 2010 at 09:59 AM JST #

In the article, a researcher is quoted as saying that fighting propaganda with facts "often amplifies the bad information." However, the data that he presented suggests that facts help somewhat, rather than making things worse.

His example, in summary: Democratic disapproval of John Roberts rose from 56% to 80% after being shown an attack ad, then fell to 72% after it was noted that the ad had been retracted as false. This suggests that facts help, but that they can't entirely overpower a lie that people would prefer to believe.

As for fighting propaganda, I think that speaking the truth is a good counter to it, but that it's difficult to do so and be heard in America's current "choose your own facts" media landscape.

Posted by Owen Allen on February 04, 2010 at 06:22 PM JST #

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