Propaganda Techniques (A Summary.)

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Ad hominem – A Latin phrase which has come to mean attacking your opponent, as opposed to attacking their arguments. David Cameron employs this strategy with considerable psychopathic expertise in Parliamentary debate. (See Prime Ministers Questions).

Ad nauseam – This approach uses tireless repetition of an idea. An idea, especially a simple slogan, that is repeated enough times, may begin to be taken as the truth. This approach works best when media sources are limited and controlled by the propagator. Joseph Goebbels, not known to be driven by the passionate inspiration of the moment, but by the result of sober psychological calculation, was particularly talented in utilising this approach. Iain Duncan Smith has a similar penchant for repeated mendacity. A serial offender.

Common man – The ordinary folks  or Common man approach is an attempt to convince the audience that the propagandist’s positions reflect the common sense of the people. It is designed to win the confidence of the audience by communicating in the common manner and style of the target audience. Propagandists use ordinary language and mannerisms (and clothe their message in face-to-face and audiovisual communications) in attempting to identify their point of view with that of the average person.

Appeals to authority – this technique involves citing prominent figures to support a position, idea, argument, or course of action. The Tories covertly appeal to the Nazis, although overtly, there are none who know better, or have more authority than the Tories. According to the Tories.

Bandwagon – Bandwagon and “inevitable-victory” appeals attempt to persuade the target audience to join in and take the course of action that “everyone else is taking.”

Black and White fallacy – Presenting only two choices, with the product or idea being propagated as the better choice. (e.g. “You are either with us, or you are with the enemy” or “If you aren’t part of the solution, then you are part of the problem”). So this involves reducing complex issues to overly simplified and contrived oppositional dichotomies, and uncritically favouring one of the two schemata.

Loaded language – Specific words and phrases with strong emotional implications are used to influence the audience. News headlines are often used for this purpose. For example “Britain risks huge influx of east Europe migrants”, from the Telegraph.

Examples also include the ad nauseum use of value-laden terms in political narratives and the media, such as “benefit cheat”, “dependency”, “entrenched”, “fraud”, “worklessness”, “addiction”, and more opprobrious examples such as “scrounger”, “skiver”, “workshy” (see Aktion Arbeitsscheu Reich and the origins of this word, it’s now being used very frequently in the media to describe unemployed and disabled people.)

Appeal to fear or Ad Horribilis – Appeals to fear seek to build support by instilling anxieties and panic in the general population, for example Goebbels exploited Theodore N. Kaufman’s Germany Must Perish!  to claim that the Allies sought the extermination of the German people.

This strategy is often employed to justify racism. It often appeals to the “burden on the taxpayer”  proposition, and often utilises Stereotyping and Flag-Waving techniques. Use of reactionary words like “swamping”, “spiralling”, “invading” and “crisis” have a long history of creating and heightening public fears of immigration, implying blame for economic downturns and recession and justifying racist policy.

Big Lie – See also Disinformation. The repeated articulation of a complex of series of events that justify subsequent action. The descriptions of these events have elements of truth, and the “big lie” generalisations merge and eventually supplant the public’s accurate perception of the underlying events. After World War I the German Stab in the back explanation of the cause of their defeat became a justification for Nazi re-militarisation and revanchist aggression.

Common man – The ordinary folks  or Common man approach is an attempt to convince the audience that the propagandist’s positions reflect the common sense of the people. It is designed to win the confidence of the audience by communicating in the common manner and style of the target audience. Propagandists use ordinary language and mannerisms (and clothe their message in face-to-face and audiovisual communications) in attempting to identify their point of view with that of the average person.

Demonising the enemy – Making individuals from the opposing nation, from a different ethnic group, or those who support the opposing viewpoint appear to be subhuman (e.g., the Vietnam War-era term “gooks” for National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam aka Vietcong, (or ‘VC’) soldiers), worthless, or immoral, through suggestion or false accusations.

Another example is the current Government making individuals of the Opposition Party appear responsible for the socio-economic crisis of Coalition origin and manufacture. (See The Great Debt Lie and the Deficit Myth).

Direct order – This technique is an attempt to simplify the decision making process by using images and words to tell the audience exactly what actions to take, eliminating any other possible choices. Authority figures can be used to give the order, overlapping it with the Appeal to authority technique, but not necessarily.

Disinformation – The creation or deletion of information from public records, in the purpose of making a false record of an event or the actions of a person or organisation, including outright forgery of photographs, motion pictures, broadcasts, and sound recordings as well as printed documents. And in the case of the Tories, statistics  (Iain Duncan Smith).See David “paying down the debt” Cameron also.

Euphoria – The use of an event that generates euphoria or “feel good”, happiness, or using an appealing event to boost morale, such as the Olympic games. Euphoria can also be created by declaring a holiday, or mounting a military parade with marching bands and patriotic messages. Royal weddings and births are elevated and spotlighted by the media for this purpose. See also Ad Nauseum

Flag-waving – An attempt to justify an action on the grounds that doing so will make one more patriotic, or in some way benefit a group, country, or idea. The feeling of patriotism which this technique attempts to inspire may not necessarily diminish or entirely omit one’s capability for rational examination of the matter in question.

Intentional vagueness – Generalities are deliberately vague so that the audience may supply its own interpretations. The intention is to move the audience by use of undefined phrases, without analysing their validity or attempting to determine their reasonableness or application. The intent is to cause people to draw their own interpretations rather than simply being presented with an explicit idea. In trying to “figure out” the propaganda, the audience forgoes judgement of the ideas presented. Their validity, reasonableness and application may still be considered.

Labeling – A Euphemism is used when the propagandist attempts to increase the perceived quality, credibility, or credence of a particular ideal. A Dysphemism is used when the intent of the propagandist is to discredit, diminish the perceived quality, or hurt the perceived righteousness of the Mark. By creating a “label” or “category” or “faction” of a population, it is much easier to make an example of these larger bodies, because they can uplift or defame the Mark without actually incurring legal-defamation. “Scrounger/striver” rhetoric would fall into this category.

Name-calling – Propagandists use this technique to incite fears and arouse prejudices in their hearers with the intent that the bad names will cause hearers to construct a negative opinion about a group or set of beliefs or ideas that the propagandist would wish hearers to denounce. The method is intended to provoke conclusions about a matter apart from impartial examinations of facts. Name-calling is thus a substitute for rational, fact-based arguments against the an idea or belief on its own merits. Again, “scrounger”, “fraud” and “workshy” are examples of this technique. See also Labeling and Stereotyping.

Obtain disapproval or Reductio ad Hitlerum – This technique is used to persuade a target audience to disapprove of an action or idea by suggesting that the idea is popular with groups hated, feared, or held in contempt by the target audience. Thus if a group which supports a certain policy is led to believe that undesirable, subversive, or contemptible people support the same policy, then the members of the group may decide to change their original position. This is a form of bad logic, where it is said that a ∈ X and a ∈ Y, therefore, X=Y.

Invocation of Reductio ad Hitlerum or the related Godwin’s Law is unreasonable where such a comparison is apt and reasonable (for example, in discussions of dangers involved in eugenics, the stigmatisation and persecution of a social group, the tolerance of racist and nationalist political parties, and the use of propaganda for any of these purposes.) In such contexts, the belittling and dismissal of an opponent’s argument on this basis becomes its own form of association fallacy and Ad Hominem attack.

Oversimplification – Favourable generalities are used to provide simple answers to complex social, political, economic, or military problems. An example of this is the use of the word “worklessness”  instead of unemployment. We know that unemployment arises through political and economic macro-level structural conditions caused by Government decision making. But the word “worklessness” is used by the current Government to shift the burden of guilt, divert attention from their shortcomings and to blame individuals for the fact they cannot find a job. There aren’t enough jobs, it’s a grim recession, we know this is so, but the Government blatantly ignores this crucial detail, or invents statistical “evidence” of none existent jobs.  See Labeling also

Quotes out of Context – Selective editing of quotes which can change meanings. Political documentaries designed to discredit an opponent or an opposing political viewpoint often make use of this technique.

An example of this is Liam Byrne’s jesting note to David Laws, his successor. It said “I’m afraid to tell you there’s no money left.”  It is a long-standing convention for outgoing ministers to leave notes for their successors with advice on how to settle into the job, which are often slanted with humour. But Byrne’s note – which he later confirmed was certainly intended as a private joke – was used in Tory-led attempts to negate Labour’s credibility regarding their economic record. Mind the logical gap.

Rationalisation – Individuals or groups may use favourable generalities to rationalise questionable acts or beliefs. Vague and pleasant phrases are often used to justify such actions or beliefs. A good example is the rationalisation that benefit sanctions  – the taking away of someone’s means of basic survival – will “support people into work”.

Red herring – Presenting data or issues that, while compelling, are irrelevant to the argument at hand, and then claiming that it validates the argument. Or if you are Iain Duncan Smith, invention of statistics is the preferred sub-set technique here.

Repetition – This type of propaganda deals with a jingle or word that is repeated over and over again, thus getting it stuck in someone’s head, so they can buy the product. The “Repetition” method has been described previously. A good example is “making work pay”, which has also become something of a Tory slogan, (see below). The phrase has come to mean stripping social security, and welfare provision, whilst driving down wages at the same time. Another example is Cameron’s unconvincing “Big Society”. There is definitely Orwellian Doublespeak going on there. See also Ad Nauseum.

Slogans – A slogan is a brief, striking phrase that may include labeling and stereotyping. Although slogans may be enlisted to support reasoned ideas, in practice they tend to act only as emotional appeals. Opponents of the US’s invasion and occupation of Iraq use the slogan “blood for oil” to suggest that the invasion and its human losses was done to access Iraq’s oil riches. On the other hand, “hawks” who argued that the US should continue to fight in Iraq use the slogan “cut and run” to suggest that it would be cowardly or weak to withdraw from Iraq. Similarly, the names of the military campaigns, such as “enduring freedom” or “just cause”, may also be regarded as slogans, devised to influence people.

A Tory slogan of epic farce value is “We are all in it together”. We know that whilst the majority endure austerity, and life changing cuts to our basic income, the minority of the very wealthy are enjoying an increase in their already considerable standard of living, at our expense. Also see Repetition and Ad Nauseum. Again.

Stereotyping (Name-Calling or Labeling) – This technique attempts to arouse prejudices in an audience by labeling the object of the propaganda campaign as something the target audience fears, hates, loathes, or finds undesirable. For instance, reporting on a foreign country or social group may focus on the stereotypical traits that the reader expects, even though they are far from being representative of the whole country or group; such reporting often focuses on the constructed and amplified negative traits (See the Telegraph, Daily Mail and Sun in particular).

Testimonial – Testimonials are quotations, in or out of context, especially cited to support or reject a given policy, action, program, or personality. The reputation or the role (expert, respected public figure, etc.) of the individual giving the statement is exploited. The testimonial places the official sanction of a respected person or authority in a propaganda message. This is done in an effort to cause the target audience to identify itself with the authority or to accept the authority’s opinions and beliefs as its own. See also damaging quotation and Appeal to Authority.

Transfer – Also known as Association, this is a technique of projecting positive or negative qualities (praise or blame) of a person, entity, object, or value (an individual, group, organisation, nation, patriotism, etc.) to another to make the second more acceptable or to discredit it. It evokes an emotional response, which stimulates the target to identify with recognised authorities.

Unstated assumption – This technique is used when the propaganda concept that the propagandist intends to transmit would seem less credible if explicitly stated. The concept is instead repeatedly assumed or implied.

Virtue words – These are words in the value system of the target audience which tend to produce a positive image when attached to a person or issue. Peace, happiness, security, wise leadership, freedom, “The Truth”,  striver etc. are virtue words. In countries such as the U.S. religiosity is seen as a virtue, making associations to this quality effectively beneficial. This technique is now very evident in the UK.  See Transfer.

Straw man – This type of argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the “straw man”), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.

This was taken from a much longer piece of work – Full length version here, with many current examples of the application of propaganda.

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant pictures

20 thoughts on “Propaganda Techniques (A Summary.)

    1. As I already discussed in the article, invocation of Reductio ad Hitlerum or the related Godwin’s Law is unreasonable where such a comparison is apt and reasonable, as it is in this case. (For example, in discussions of the dangers involved in eugenics, persecution and stigmatisation of any social group, or tolerance of racist and nationalist political parties, and propaganda campaigns used to promote any of these). In the cases where I have drawn parallels between the Tories and the Nazis, I have justified such comparison with evidence, (although you will need to read the original, longer article to see the examples and evidence I provided.) and in such a context, the belittling and dismissal of an “opponent’s” argument on this basis becomes its own form of association fallacy and Ad Hominem attack.

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  1. More plainly put, there are some circumstances where Godwins Law ought to be repealed, or suspended, because there are some circumstances when its appropriate to make the comparison, and to fail to acknowledge such circumstances is itself based on fallacious reasoning, particularly when the empirical evidence stares us in the face on a daily basis.

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