Propaganda is one-sided communication designed to influence people's thinking and actions. A television commercial or a poster urging people to vote for a political candidate might be propaganda, depending on its method of persuasion.
Propaganda differs from education in democratic societies. But education in a dictatorship can involve teaching children and youth by techniques that could be classified as propaganda. Educators in democratic societies teach people how to think, but propagandists tell them what to think. Most educators are willing to change their opinions on the basis of new evidence, but propagandists ignore evidence that contradicts them. Educators present all sides of an issue and encourage debate. Propagandists build the strongest possible case for their views and discourage discussion.
The intention of the communicator to influence or deceive is an important issue in identifying propaganda. However, experts disagree about what is propaganda and what is not, and whether propaganda differs from other forms of persuasion, such as advertising and political campaigning. Some look upon all slanted communication as propaganda. Others believe that the method of persuasion determines whether a message is propaganda. For example, the majority of advertisers and political campaigners function openly and state their purposes truthfully. Other advertisers and political campaigners present any combination of truths, half-truths, lies, and distortions that they think will most effectively influence their audience. Some experts say all these people are propagandists. Others regard only the second group as propagandists.
Some people consider propaganda neither good nor bad. For example, many favor the use of propaganda to raise money for charity. Other individuals argue that the public needs reliable information to make wise decisions, and that propaganda blocks the spreading of such information. They also fear that propaganda deadens people's power of reasoning. The results of some propaganda may be short term and relatively insignificant, such as the purchase of a product. Other types of propaganda can have more serious results.
The greatest use of propaganda occurs during wartime. At such times, government propaganda campaigns urge people to save resources, volunteer for military service, support the war effort, and make sacrifices necessary for victory. Psychological warfare is a type of propaganda that aims to weaken the enemy's will to fight or belief in their government. A related technique, called brainwashing, is used against prisoners. It combines political propaganda with harsh treatment to reduce a prisoner's resistance.
How propaganda works
Propaganda appeals to its audience in three ways: firstly, it calls for an action or opinion that it makes seem wise and reasonable; secondly, suggests that the action or opinion is moral and right and thirdly, provides a pleasant feeling, such as a sense of importance or of belonging.
Many propaganda methods are common-sense techniques that resemble those of persuasive speaking. These techniques include gaining people's trust, simplicity and repetition, and the use of symbols. However, propagandists often use such underhanded methods as distortion, concealment, and lying. In nations ruled by dictators, governments increase the effectiveness of their propaganda by using censorship.
Source: World Book Encyclopedia
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