Evolution of Propaganda

Propaganda!  The word has began to take on a new meaning, when the word first appeared in 1622 when Pope Gregory XV established the Sacred Congregation for Propagating the Faith (Congregatio de Propaganda Fide). Propaganda was then as now about convincing large numbers of people about the veracity of a given set of ideas.

A Brief History of Propaganda:

Religious propagation

The term ‘propaganda’ first appeared in 1622 when Pope Gregory XV established the Sacred Congregation for Propagating the Faith (Congregatio de Propaganda Fide). Propaganda was then as now about convincing large numbers of people about the veracity of a given set of ideas.

Of course, propaganda is as old as people, politics and religion. People with ideas will always want to persuade others about them and, if they have the power, they will pull every string they have to persuade everyone.

The notion of propaganda remained one of propagating beliefs and doctrines remained the primary definition until the first world war (1914-18).

Propaganda and war

Wars have always been a good reason to use propaganda, as governments seek to persuade populaces of the justness of their cause as well as hide the horrors and failures of the front line. Misinformation and disinformation are widely used to distract people from the truth and create new realities.

Entry into the first world war was apparently accompanied with many stories of atrocities that were false. Things have not changed and more recent wars have also had more than their fair share of propaganda and false excuses.

One of the basic successful home messages of the war was that everything Germans said was a lie and everything Americans said was the truth. This gave a platform for sustaining faith in ultimate victory and cast Germany as an evil to be destroyed.

In 1933, Hitler realized the potential of propaganda and appointed Joseph Goebbels as Minister for Propaganda. Goebbels was remarkably effective and much of the propaganda literature discusses in detail the methods they used.

The Institute for Propaganda Analysis (IPA)

In 1936 Boston merchant Edward Filene helped establish the short-lived Institute for Propaganda Analysis which sought to educate Americans to recognize propaganda techniques. Although it did not last long, they did produce a list of seven propaganda methods that have become something of a standard.

The modern world

Propaganda and manipulation of reality continues to be used in large quantities in the modern world. Governments continue to tell their constituencies what they think they need to know. Advertisers use the whole gamut of propagandist techniques. And although some people can see the reality (and some theorize about improbable conspiracies), most people are taken in and see nothing of how they are manipulated.

Books such as Bernays’ Propaganda in 1928 still treated it as a force for good and an effective method of mass social persuasion, even though the ethics of its use varied greatly. His book starts with a sentence that would cause much concern today, yet which then seemed practical and acceptable:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in a democratic society.

The dominant view of the populace then was of an uneducated, ill-informed mass whose views should be directed rather than allow them to think. Thinking on higher matters was really for managers and rulers who could decide what was best for lesser people.

The discipline of public relations (PR) started as a profession after the first world war as the commercial benefits of careful propaganda were realized.   Source:

More and more people are labeling as propaganda any information, or the source of the information, in which they disagree.  Here is an example:

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s Supreme Leader, told the IRAN Farsi newspaper of his opinions on Eastwood’s film, which he admitted he has not seen but was informed of the plot by others.

“The movie ‘Sniper’ that is made by Hollywood encourages a Christian or non-Muslim youngster to harass and offend the Muslims as far as they could,” Ali Khamenei told the outlet, according to CBS News.

This is the basic they use for that claim: From Wikipedia

Propaganda is a form of communication aimed towards influencing the attitude of a population toward some cause or position.

Propaganda is information that is not impartial and used primarily to influence an audience and further an agenda, often by presenting facts selectively (perhaps lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or using loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information presented.

Thus any truth uttered by someone or group in which you disagree can be dismissed as propaganda because they only tell the truth to advance their agenda.

Again From Wikipedia

Defining propaganda has always been a problem. The main difficulties have involved differentiating propaganda from other types of persuasion, and avoiding a biased approach (“what they do is propaganda, what we do is education”). Garth Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell have provided a concise, workable definition of the term: “Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.”[4] More comprehensive is the description by Richard Alan Nelson: “Propaganda is neutrally defined as a systematic form of purposeful persuasion that attempts to influence the emotions, attitudes, opinions, and actions of specified target audiences for ideological, political or commercial purposes through the controlled transmission of one-sided messages (which may or may not be factual) via mass and direct media channels. A propaganda organization employs propagandists who engage in propagandism—the applied creation and distribution of such forms of persuasion.”[5]

The question I put to you is if a white racist group such as the Council of Conservative Citizens, who are an American political organization that supports a large variety of conservative and paleoconservative causes, in addition to white separatism tells a true story about the first slaveholder in America  and other stories about rich black slaveholders in the Antebellum South, is that just propaganda to be discounted as such, or should you consider its ramifications regardless of the source?

In politics the manufacturing of propaganda is now called spinning.  So what is political “spin”? “Spin” is an interpretation of a particular position to garner public support. Sometimes, it relies on the creative interpretation of the facts to move that position forward.  Should all spin be disregarded because it is merely propaganda?

In public relations, spin is a form of propaganda, achieved through providing an interpretation of an event or campaign to persuade public opinion in favor or against a certain organization or public figure. While traditional public relations may also rely on creative presentation of the facts, “spin” often implies disingenuous, deceptive and/or highly manipulative tactics.

From 100 Years Of Propaganda: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Propaganda is most well known in the form of war posters. But at its core, it is a mode of communication aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Although propaganda is often used to manipulate human emotions by displaying facts selectively, it can also be very effective at conveying messages and hence can be used in web design, too.

Notice that propaganda uses loaded messages to change the attitude toward the subject in the target audience. When applied to web design, you may experiment with techniques used in propaganda posters and use them creatively to achieve a unique and memorable design.

In this article, we look at various types of propaganda and the people behind it, people who are rarely seen next to their work. You will also see how the drive for propaganda shaped many of the modern art movements we see today. Notice that this post isn’t supposed to be an ultimate showcase of propaganda artists. Something or somebody is missing? Please let us know in the comments to this post!

Advertisers use deceptive propaganda all the time, one of the first use of it changed the perception of American’s to believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day:

In the 1920s, the Austrian-born Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud, was approached by the Beech-Nut Packing Company – producers of everything from pork products to the nostalgic Beech-Nut bubble gum. Beech-Nut wanted to increase consumer demand for bacon.  In the video above Edward L. Bernays describes his work with the Beech Nut Packing Company and how bacon and eggs became America’s favorite breakfast.

He turned to his agency’s, the Public Relations Counselor, internal doctor and asked him whether a heavier breakfast might be more beneficial for the American public. Knowing which way his bread was buttered, the doctor confirmed Bernays suspicion and wrote to five thousand of his doctor friends asking them to confirm it as well. This ‘so called study’ of doctors encouraging the American public to eat a heavier breakfast – namely ‘Bacon and Eggs’ – was published in major newspapers and magazines of the time to great success. Beech-Nut’s profits rose sharply thanks to Bernays and his team of medical professionals.


Bernays was quite good at using psychology, i.e., brainwashing, to get people to buy a product or an idea. He was hired by the Aluminum Company of America to use the American Dental Association to convince people that water fluoridation was safe and healthy for the public. This allowed them to sell a very toxic by product that was costing them a lot to dispose of and have the cities of the nation dump it for them and pay for the privilege.

Yes your government will lie to you, and then lie about lying, but that isn’t the point, the point is that people are trying to persuade to accept their version of reality, their vision of the future, and many will deceive to persuade you.  Be aware and think things through, just because someone says something is propaganda does not mean the information is not true and worthy of consideration.  The propagandist will do their utmost to come across as most trustworthy, but then so will someone who truly believes what they are preaching.  It is your choice, not theirs.




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  1. […] Also see the Evolution of Propaganda […]

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