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6 Ways To Spot Propaganda

The propagandist’s purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human.

Aldous Huxley

Propaganda is one of the most evil and despicable forms of mass mind control you can imagine.

That sounds like a bold statement until you understand what propaganda is and what it can make us do.

Propaganda can be defined as targeted messaging of often one-sided information that is spread to influence people’s opinions. It’s used to get us to do and think things that go completely against common sense, our peaceful nature, and logic itself.

It can be used to make us hate a set of people, go to war, willingly hand over our liberty, privacy, wealth, and health and even make us turn to violence, torture and kill our loved ones.

We only need to look at recent history to witness evidence of this.

And the worse thing is, we often don’t realise we are held under its spell (until it’s too late).

Anyone can be propagandised. It doesn’t matter your background, belief system or education.

In fact, those who think they aren’t susceptible to propaganda most often, sadly, are.

Propaganda is the executive arm of the invisible government

Edward Bernays

But before we look at how to spot it, let’s take a quick look at the origins of the word itself.

The word ‘propaganda’ or how we interpret it comes to us courtesy of Pope Gregory XV.

In 1622 he set up what we would probably call a Nudge Unit today; the ‘Congregatio de Propaganda Fide’. Its job was to ‘propagate (i.e. set forward, extend, spread, increase) Catholicism by any means necessary and was set up in response to the threat of the new-fangled (but highly appealing) Protestant faith that was rapidly gaining traction.

Since then, it’s been through a few rebrands and has various offshoots and tools (think public relations, behavioural science ‘nudges’, advertising) but call it what you will – it can be used to devastating effect.

What’s more, it’s not anything new. Tyrants, despots and those in power have been using forms of propaganda to “mold minds” since ancient times.

The difference is that now, with the power of the internet, an orchestrated message or agenda has a terrifying global reach.

With that in mind (pun intended), here are six simple ways to spot if you are being propagandised (aka brainwashed):

1. The agenda in question is everywhere you look

And by everywhere, I mean everywhere.

On huge billboards by the road, on railroads and motorways, on buses, in the shops, schools, hospitals, airports, on the front page of ALL the newspapers and magazines, on the TV, radio, and social media and being pushed and promulgated by famous stars, celebs, national ‘treasures’ and ‘influencers’, as well as everywhere else you can imagine 24/7!

We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.

Edward Bernays

2. There are no counter-arguments or opposing narratives

Any dissenting opinion is either crushed, ridiculed, shadow banned or made illegal. You’ll also see name calling and logical fallacies go off the chart and see terms like ‘fake news, ‘disinformation’, ‘fact checkers’ and ‘hate speech’ thrown about like confetti at a wedding.

The lack of any viable opposing opinions is what makes propaganda so different from persuasion, which at least gives people the ability to choose an alternative view via some form of reasoned discourse.

Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way round, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise.

Adolf Hitler

3. There is often a grain of truth

But it’s an atom-sized grain at best.

One that’s been distorted, puffed up beyond belief, flip-flopped about, and always ends up completely bizarre, illogical and frustrating to try to understand.

By the time this ‘truth’ has gone through the propaganda mill, it’s usually taken on almost supernatural powers and makes people do the strangest things.

This is done on purpose to disable your ability to think clearly, and put you into a form of mass hypnosis. You’re now part of a cult.

The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.

Garry Kasparov

4. There’s a catchy tag line or slogan

There are usually some catchy and often emotive tag lines that everyone rolls out at the same time. They can utilise the well-known power of three, rhyme or alliterate. The key is that they are usually short, memorable and roll off the tongue. When combined with an image (think wartime posters), they can be even more powerful.

To give you an idea, here are some examples of slogans you may recognise:

Build Back Better

Hands, Face, Space

Loose Lips Sink Ships

And we can always rely on the intentionally misleading slogan in Orwell’s 1984: “War is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.”

But the most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over. Here, as so often in this world, persistence is the first and most important requirement for success.

Adolf Hitler

5. There are good guys vs the baddies

There’s always some baddie being demonised. These so-called bad guys could be from a foreign country or a group whose beliefs go against the consensus narrative.

But a sure sign that you are in the presence of some serious ‘Prop’ is that this ‘group’ of people are utterly beyond contempt, stupid or evil – and what’s worse, they are putting your life and everyone you love in terrible danger!

Propaganda thrives on fear.

And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future’: who controls the present controls the past.

George Orwell, 1984

6. Everyone is talking about the same thing

If everyone you know, meet online or bump into down your local is talking about the same thing and are using exactly the same talking points and sound bites – then you know for sure it’s full spectrum ‘society shifting’ propaganda at work.

For propaganda to work at its best, it’s essential to have not just the four cornerstones working together in unison (i.e. 1) the News Media, 2) Government, 3) Academia, and 4) Entertainment)- but the people exposed to it spreading it amongst themselves, repeating and reinforcing whatever agitprop nonsense ‘they’ want you to believe.

And it works every time – for a while, at least!

Propaganda works best when those who are being manipulated are confident they are acting on their own free will

Joseph Goebbels

There are many other ways to spot propaganda at work, but these are among the simplest.

The key to arming yourself against it is to apply critical thinking, logic and discernment as much as you can at all times.

Try not to rely on too narrow a range of sources for your news and current affairs, and remember that propaganda is being aimed at you in a full spectrum fashion. It’s not just via the news but entertainment, fashion, music, games, sport, and even comedy. In fact, especially comedy.

Boom, boom!


Further reading:

Propaganda – Edward L Bernays

Public Opinion – Walter Lippmann

The Psychology of Totalitarianism – Mattias Desmet

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