Even though people often claim propaganda to be a bad thing, that is far from the truth. Propaganda is a form of communication. The intent of it is to influence an audience to agree to a certain agenda.
It’s a manipulative approach. Facts are selectively presented and the goal is to invoke an emotional response of the recipient. Not just radical groups like Nazis or Marxists use propaganda for their purposes. I use it all the time and you probably do so too.
If you try to win an argument, you will most likely not outline the weaknesses or counterarguments to your reasoning. You selectively present facts or even exaggerations, maybe even lies, to get your point across.
There’s a simple reason to do so: it works. We all fall for propaganda all the time. Yet most of us would claim the opposite. We believe that we can reliably spot propaganda and that we cannot be manipulated. Yet the people who think that way have the highest risk to get manipulated.
We all think that we are smart. That our opinion is the right one. We believe that we have control over our minds. And someone trying to manipulate you will not tell you otherwise. The manipulator will constantly tell you the things you want to hear.
Once you’ve bonded with the manipulator, he will then try to guide your feelings and emotions. He will do the thinking for you. And you will fall for it because emotions most often beat rational thoughts. Rational thinking is hard and abstract. It’s an incredibly challenging task to look at facts and data without any kind of emotions attached to it.
The laws of propaganda are not always logical
We intuitively know how to convince people through propaganda. Yet our rational mind has a hard time explaining how propaganda can be effective. Good propaganda is irrational.
If you want to make successful propaganda you need to do things that follow no real logic.
- Big lies are more effective than small lies. People somehow believe big lies more readily than small lies.
- Repeat one or two key points to exhaustion. You don’t bore the audience with that. Tell a lie over and over again and it will become believable.
- Provoke and constantly blame the other side. You don’t need to offer a solution to certain problems. Instead, you need to convince the listener that the other side is evil. People don’t search for solutions. They search for enemies to blame.
- All issues are either black or white. There is no shade of grey. Don’t show any doubt or two-sided reasoning. That doesn’t make you seem smart but weak and doubtful.
- Never ever apologize. If you get attacked, get ready to attack back. There are no moral limits. If you apologize, you seem weak, not likable. Apologizing or defending yourself is admitting a mistake.
If you think like me, that all sounds horrible to you. But it is the sad truth that with these techniques you will be most successful at convincing people. Most people aim to not be like this. But when it comes hard to hard, we all intuitively rely on these principles.
If you want to convince someone no matter what you will use a big lie. You will use us vs. them argumentation patterns. You will construct an enemy that needs to be defeated. That’s just how our mind works. It’s not convincing for us to go into a fight without an enemy to defeat.
Here are some examples of constructed enemies among certain groups:
- Wealthy people are the enemies of left-wing politicians
- Immigrants are the enemies of the working poor
- Donald Trump is the enemy of Biden supporters
I hope this shows once more that propaganda techniques are something that not only the Nazis use. It’s used by everyone. It’s intuitive for us. Some just do it better and more effectively than others.
Common propaganda techniques
So even though it might seem immoral to you, it can help you greatly to be able to identify and use propaganda techniques. The propaganda playbook is a huge one. Among the most popular techniques are:
- Name-calling or stereotyping: Give people a label like for example “tree-hugger”, “stoner”, “sleepy Joe”, or “lazy Louis”. Always use this label when addressing them.
- Plain folks: Convince the audience that your ideas are the same as of the vast majority of simple people. Say things like “This is the will of the people” or “I think just like you”. Use simple and understandable language. Don’t talk overly complicated.
- Hot potato: Use a lie or controversial statement to throw an opponent off guard or to embarrass them. Say things like “Why do you beat your children?” or “When will you pay back the money you owe your best friend?”. It’s completely irrelevant if the statement is wrong. People will only remember and see your opponent struggling. They will think: Well, he’s struggling to find an answer and has to defend himself. There might be some truth to the statement.
- Scapegoat: This one is easy. Blame a specific person or group for a problem. For example: “China is responsible for the worldwide spread of the coronavirus.”
- Weak inference: Make a judgment from insufficient evidence and grossly generalize. For example, after a terrorist attack, you could say: “All Muslims are terrorists.” Of course, not all of them are.
- Fear: This one is obvious. Tell people that they are in danger. For example: “If we raise the tax rates in this country, millions like you will lose their jobs.”
- Diversion: Direct attention away from embarrassing or threatening topics. Don’t discuss them. Simply open a new topic and attack your opponent. Don’t answer uncomfortable questions. Ignore them and distract the audience.
- Cause and effect mismatch: The causes of most phenomena are complex. Yet it can help to direct attention to one specific cause that is beneficial for you. For example: “I am late because the bus got stuck in a traffic accident” instead of “I am late because I missed the early bus” or “I am late because I got up late.”
The seven laws of successful propaganda
If you want to be successful with a propaganda campaign, there are seven laws that you should follow for maximum efficiency.
1. All suggestions should seem to meet an existing need
The propaganda needs to be related to the needs and motives of the audience. If all needs of the audience are satisfied, you need to find ways to generate a need.
2. Offer suggestions or solutions to ambiguous situations and problems.
The more controversial a topic, the better it can be used for propaganda purposes. In Germany, such topics are for example the refugee and corona crisis. We all search for easy solutions. Whenever a situation seems overwhelming or unclear for us, we tend to appreciate it if someone outlines a simple and clear solution to us.
3. Suggestions that fit in with other systems of beliefs will be more readily accepted.
Western people tend to think more individualistic than Asian people. Thus it is easier and more convincing to talk about self-reliance and capitalism than of community-support or communism. If your audience is Christian, you might refer to bible verses or Jesus to justify your actions. Show people that you are one of them. That you share their belief system.
4. Suggestions are most successful if they can shift the perception of a familiar object in the desired direction
People can have strong beliefs towards certain objects like the army or immigrants. You need to transform these beliefs in your desired direction. Don’t force people to join the army or tell them that they need to love all immigrants. Point out the positives of joining the army like for example a high salary, comradeship, and other benefits. Tell people that immigrants are hard workers, pay a lot of taxes, and grow our economy. Repeat that constantly until people think that: army = honorable job and immigrants = economic growth.
5. Suggestions with social support are more readily acceptable than those without.
Use the “bandwagon” technique. Remind your audience that the majority of the population supports your suggestions. For example, an advertisement for a shampoo might say: “80 % of men have tried our shampoo and 99 % loved it.”
6. Propaganda needs to be eye-catching and attractive.
The audience is more likely to listen to your arguments if they feel entertained. Make a show out of your propaganda. Compete for attention. The louder and more colorful, the better.
7. The most effective way to fight propaganda is with counter-propaganda.
Beat people with their own weapons. Use manipulative techniques to your advantage. Don’t make yourself a victim. Pick up the fight and make sure to launch a counter-attack every time you get attacked. I know this sounds horrible but it is reliably the most effective way to win. If the enemy fires at you with a machine gun it is of no help to just pick up a sword. You will be pulverized within less than a second if you don’t react with the appropriate weapons.
Propaganda is not evil but a useful tool
I can’t stress enough once again that propaganda is not exclusive to certain groups. It is used by any political party or regime. We all fall victim to it. I do too. And yes, I manipulate you too and use propaganda techniques in my posts.
The people who claim that they can’t be manipulated are usually the ones who fall the hardest for propaganda. We often claim people with extreme views to be propagandists. However, they just shoot with the loudest weapons. Succesful propaganda can also be very subtle and civilized.
Islam is a religion that is experiencing a crisis across the world.
We don’t believe in political Islam that is not compatible with stability and peace in the world.Propaganda by the French president Macron in response to Islamist terrorist attacks
In these two sentences you can see that:
- Macron has an enemy: political Islam
- It’s an us-vs-them problem (note that Macron says “we” (not I) suggesting that all French are opposed to the political Isalm and share his views)
- Islam is experiencing a crisis, not the French state.
- Macron implies that political Islam is the root cause of instabilities across the world, although it is more complicated than that. The West is not fault-free in destabilizing the Middle East. Yet Macron simplifies the problem and takes the blame away from him.
Propaganda is something that we shouldn’t necessarily be afraid of. Without it, it would be very hard to convince other people about our ideas. There would be no enthusiasm in this world.
Humans are no computers. And I am glad about that. We don’t think in a rational way. We don’t solve problems by pure logic. We have emotions and we listen to them. And this is one of our strongest advantages. We can work together through emotional bonds.
Social communities like sports clubs, activist groups, or churches can unite people. Humans can form strong associations and work together to achieve bigger goals. But these associations are often not formed because of rational reasoning. They are held together by propaganda. By a shared belief system that we believe in because we are emotionally attached to it. Not because we performed cost-revenue-calculations and considered all the pro and counter-arguments.