Mike has a keen interest in the effects of politics in our culture. He has a unique way of simplifying complex concepts.
In this day and age, we are bombarded by so much information about politics and social issues that it's hard to sort it all out. One thing is for sure: It is fraught with propaganda and the spinning of issues.
Propaganda techniques have been used throughout history to manipulate people into buying certain products, voting a certain way, or changing their views on religious or civil issues. Propaganda is still being used today in very subtle and sophisticated ways.
Types of Propaganda
The following paragraphs describe the 10 most common propaganda techniques, give examples of how they are used, and give pointers so you can recognize them. The purpose of this article is to empower you to form your own opinions without the influence of propaganda. Here is a list of the techniques covered:
- Glittering Generalities
- False Analogy
- Plain Folks
- Card Stacking
- Either/or Fallacy
- Faulty Cause and Effect
- Spinning the Issues
This technique associates a negative name to a person or a thing. This is used when people are trying to avoid supporting their own opinion with facts. Instead of explaining what they believe in, they diminish their opponent's position by name-calling. Examples of this technique include: racists, sexists, homophobic, Marxists, socialists, Fascists.
When experiencing name-calling ask yourself the following questions:
- What does the name or label mean to me?
- Does the idea in question have a valid connection with the real meaning of the name or label?
- Is it an idea that serves my best interests being dismissed by giving it a name I don't like?
- If I remove the name, what are the merits of the idea by itself?
2. Glittering Generalities
This technique uses important-sounding "glad words" that have little or no real meaning. These words are used in general statements that cannot be proved or disproved. Glad words are usually adjectives used to enhance the idea being presented. They include words like "good," "honest," "fair," "excellent" and "best.". When confronted with Glad Words, ask yourself the following questions:
- What does the glad word really mean to me?
- Does the idea being presented have a valid connection with how the word is being used?
- .Are they trying to sell me something that is not in my best interests by using words that I like?
- If the glad word is removed, does the idea still have merit?
In this technique, an attempt is made to transfer the prestige of a positive symbol to a person or an idea. For example, using the American flag on the side of a bus for a political event suggests that the event includes a form of patriotism. Gun sights in red or blue on regions of a map suggest that those are the targeted regions by the party affiliation. When confronted with the transfer device, ask the following questions:
- In the most simple and valid terms, what is being proposed?
- What is the meaning of the the thing from which the propagandist is seeking to transfer authority, sanction, and prestige?
- Is there any legitimate connection between the proposal of the propagandist and the revered thing, person or institution?
- If the symbol is removed, does the proposal still have merit?
4. False Analogy
In a false analogy, two concepts or events are associated with each other without any specific evidence indicating a cause and effect relationship. An example is: People who drink caffeinated coffee don't sleep well, Nancy drinks caffeinated coffee, therefore she does not sleep well.
When examining the comparison, ask yourself how similar the items are. In most false analogies, there is simply not enough evidence available to support the comparison.
This technique is easy to understand. It is when "big name" personalities are used to endorse a product, person, or organization. Whenever you see someone famous endorsing these things, ask yourself how much that person knows about that thing, and what he or she stands to gain by promoting it. Politicians and commercial ads use this all the time. An example would be a well known, very wealthy person endorsing a politicians campaign.
6. Plain Folks
This technique uses a folksy approach to convince us to support someone or something. These ads show people with ordinary looks doing ordinary activities like riding a bicycle, fishing with the family, etc. When viewing this technique, we should suspend judgment and ask ourselves the following questions:
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- What are the propagandist's ideas worth when divorced from his or her personality?
- What could he or she be trying to cover up with the plain-folks approach?
- What are the facts?
7. Card Stacking
This term comes from stacking a deck of cards in your favor. Card stacking is used to slant a message. Key words or unfavorable statistics may be omitted in an ad or commercial, leading to a series of half-truths. Here are two examples of Card stacking used in slogans: "Are you ready for some real food?' "We wouldn't serve it, if it didn't taste better."
Keep in mind that an advertiser is under no obligation "to give the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."
The "bandwagon" approach encourages you to think that because everyone else is doing something, you should do it too, or you'll be left out. The technique embodies a "keeping up with the Joneses" philosophy. This technique is used to create momentum for movements.
It may be helpful to ask the following questions:
- What is this program really about?
- What is the evidence for and against the program?
- Should I support this program, regardless of how others feel?
- Does the program serve or undermine my values and beliefs?
9. Either/or Fallacy
This technique is also called "black-and-white thinking" because only two choices are given. You are either for something or against it; there is no middle ground or shades of gray. It is used to polarize issues, and negates all attempts to find a common ground. Example: "You are either for Democracy or your are against it. A limited number of options (usually two) is given, while in
reality there are more options.
10. Faulty Cause and Effect
This technique suggests that because B follows A, A must cause B. Remember, just because two events or two sets of data are related does not necessarily mean that one caused the other to happen. It is important to evaluate data carefully before jumping to a wrong conclusion.
As an example of how logic can be abused, consider the following argument:
- Premise 1: Joe Smith supports gun-control legislation.
- Premise 2: All fascist organizations have passed gun-control legislation.
- Conclusion: Therefore, Joe Smith is a fascist.
11. Spinning the Issues
Spinning the issues is another form of propaganda that is very subtle and yet very sophisticated. It involves the use of substituting words and phrases that have a particular meaning with other similar words and phrases that change the thinking of the audience to manipulate the outcome in the favor of the "Spinner." The following is a list of do's and dont's that Republican Stategist's Frank Luntz told the governeror's convention how to substitute words and phrases to change how republicans talk about the Occupy Wall Street Movement.
I hope this has enlightened you and empowered you to recognize propaganda when it is being used so that you can form your own opinions and draw your own conclusions to better your life.
- What is Propaganda Analysis?
The propaganda analysis movement teaches people how to recognize and analyze propaganda. Democracy requires thoughtful, critical citizens who ask questions.
- Public Relations and Propaganda Techniques
Information from the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: Why is it important to recognize propaganda devices?
Answer: It is important to recognize propaganda techniques to understand when others are trying to manipulate your values and belief systems.
© 2012 Mike Russo