Propaganda: When You Just Want Damage…

The last of Monday’s manipulation styles is manipulation through propaganda. Most of us have seen the impact of propaganda throughout history, and who hasn’t been on the wrong end of a commercial?

Essentially, the propagandist depends on the natural flow of information. As a result, users of this manipulation style are more common in places where information spreads easily: though a rumor may be able to permeate an isolated village within hours, it’s not going to spread past there if hardly anyone enters or leaves. On the other hand, we’ve all seen the speed at which information, even false information, can spread through the Internet.

The propagandist’s primary skill is knowing how to appeal to the emotions of as many different people as she can in a few words as possible. Often, this involves utilizing images of recent events, triggering fears, or playing to beliefs. The only rule is that it has to be something people will want to spread. Luckily, people will talk about anything.

A good propagandist understands the concept of of image—what people associate with everything from other individuals through events and countries, and more importantly how people want these things (not) to be seen. Image is, after all, her primary tool. With it, she can determine whether her target is to be liked or disliked by the masses. By tweaking it just a bit, she can turn a simple mistake into a scandal of epic proportions, or whitewash an atrocity into an act of heroism. And often, by reminding people that such is within her capabilities, she can convince them to follow her instructions. Nobody wants the propagandist’s poison pen turned in his direction!

But as with any other manipulation style, understanding only is not enough—it is also necessary to be able to apply the information, and that means knowing how an image can be changed and how to tie images together. The propagandist should be good with words, choosing ones that are loaded with associations and preconceptions, and creating phrases that are easy to remember and pass on. She should know how her targets are connected to those around them, and how her audience might feel about those connections. Knowing from history also helps: those who do not understand the past are not only doomed to repeat it, but unable to exploit it.

The propagandist’s greatest enemies, in most people’s eyes, are logic and reason. If people realize she’s trying to manipulate them, not only is she less likely to succeed, but they might work against her instead of staying out of the way. Granted, they’re likelier to somewhat contain her rumors or to slow their spread than to actually stop them; there are always people who will believe, and will talk. Not that that’s much comfort for the propagandist when the people who have seen through her misinformation are going after her.

But her own work can also be her enemy. Mistakes made in propaganda, whether it’s bad wording, exploiting the wrong problem, or just releasing the right thing at the wrong time, tend to perpetuate themselves, magnifying the effect as the word spreads. Moreover, it can be very hard to do damage control—after all, one of the strengths of the technique is that it’s so difficult to stop. A propagandist who makes one of the above mistakes, or whose message is just twisted too much by the Telephone effect, will find herself in at least as much of a pickle as one who’s been caught in the act.

Uncontrollable but effective, propaganda is the favored choice of the manipulator in a hurry or one who knows for sure how her audience is going to react. Can your world get it out of its head?

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