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Truth vs. Propoganda

November 13, 2011

In my latest writing project, I am exploring propaganda and its effect on society. Specifically, how and why it takes hold, what factors help it propagate, and why, in this age of instant information, it continues to thrive.

It has amazed me that, with information available at your fingertips, untruths continue to affect our thoughts, our policy, and our lives. I would have thought that the internet would have made it harder for lies to take hold. Here are some observations I have made in my research

1.) Best practices of journalism have been abandoned, specifically checking for secondary sources. Indeed, what constitutes a source has been changed. Blogs and pundit opinion are now quoted as if they are worthy sources of information. In addition, some statements are validated cyclically…One person makes an erroneous statement, which is quoted by others, which is quoted by still others in the media. Finally, the original source of the statement will use this trail of statements to validate his original contention, thus “proving” he was right. Another interesting strategy employed by propagandists is the use of leading phrases in a statement to turn a questionable statement into a true statement. Add phrases like “Some people say…” or “I have heard that…” to the beginning of a lie, and it becomes a truth.

2.) Ideology is a powerful drug. Make statements that speak to a person’s innate ideology, and all the truth in the world won’t convince them otherwise. I have seen people argue with certified experts in a field and downplay verified and validated studies and data to protect their cherished beliefs. Unfortunately, this is aggravated by the fact that there are a number of experts whose opinions are for sale. If the propagandist can get even a small number of experts on an issue to sell-out, they will use this as proof of their contention regardless of how these so-called experts are treated by their colleagues and their professional societies. This has been especially prevalent in the debate over man-made climate change, where the fossil fuel industries have sponsored “research” to bring doubt to the validated and verified studies. In addition, people with strong ideologies search for “facts” that validate their ideology and ignore those that don’t, thus creating “facts” from their ideology rather than the other way around. The term “common sense” has been bandied about in debates and discussions as a justification for failure to do actual research into the facts.

3.) Education is critically important to any effort to fight propaganda. I have observed in my own high school students a critical lack of knowledge pertaining to a.) what constitutes a real source, b.) the difference between fact and opinion, c.) a lack of understanding of vocabulary being used in specific debates, and d.) a lack of interest in taking the time to research and formulate stances based on data and studies. Terrorism in our modern world demonstrates in the starkest fashion what unethical educated people can cause the desperate and uneducated to do. Propagandists often spend significant time infiltrating and attempting to control education and educators for this reason (see the debate in Texas over the social studies curriculum and the attempt to rewrite history). They also have, in recent times, attempted and in many cases succeeded in efforts to undercut the opinions of educated, credentialed, and experienced experts. This is done by creating conspiracies that don’t exist and claiming the experts are part of the conspiracy.

4.) Desperation breeds malleability which makes people susceptible to propaganda. Poverty, war, loss of loved ones…all of these can make even the best person believe a lie that puts a target on a possible culprit for his suffering. People become frustrated when they can’t find a source for their ills and propagandists use this frustration as a means of control. Combine this with a lack of education, and you have a fertile breeding ground for lies to take hold.

It seems that the instant access to information and communications provided by modern mass communications has actually worked for the propagandists.

I am interested in hearing your thoughts on this issue. I am not trying to take a political side here but to look at the issue from a historical and scientific perspective.

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4 Comments
  1. Loretta Sachsel permalink

    Interesting, I am currently reading “River Town” by Peter Hessler. It illustrates this perfectly…Check it out!

  2. Yolanda permalink

    I have to say I agree. My grandfather always taught me that knowledge is power. Unfortunately, too many of the wrong people know this and exploit it. By allowing ourselves to purposely stay ignorant of certain things, we think that it’s a viable excuse to say “Well, I didn’t know”. That excuse doesn’t keep us safe, it just shows that while we are comfortable with a slave mentality, we are also comfortable with other people being in control. Many people are sheep, and there are a few who are using that to their advantage and will continue to do so.

    I’m really interested to see how you use this in your novel. Good post!

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