Propaganda: how to live in a post-truth world

Yura Turivny
5 min readJul 19, 2023

Propaganda is a form of communication that influences society’s attitude towards a specific issue. It has existed for many centuries and has become even more sophisticated and dangerous in our time. In this text, we will examine the main methods of propaganda, such as emotional manipulation, distortion of information, and social pressure on perception. We will also discuss the role of artificial intelligence in modern propaganda and ways to counter it.

A surreal vector art illustration in the style of contemporary artist Shepard Fairey, depicting a man with three faces, each representing a form of propaganda: emotional manipulation, distortion of information, and social pressure. The man is standing in the middle of a bustling city square, symbolizing daily life. The faces are exaggerated and grotesque, creating a sense of discomfort and urgency

The effects of propaganda

Propaganda has always been a powerful tool for manipulating public opinion and shaping narratives. Here are a few horrifying examples:

  1. Nazi propaganda: Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels used propaganda to fuel anti-Semitism, leading to the Holocaust and the deaths of millions of Jews.
  2. Genocide in Rwanda: The Hutu used radio broadcasts to spread hate speech against the Tutsi, resulting in the mass murder of around 800,000 people.
  3. “Red Scare” propaganda: The United States and the Soviet Union used propaganda to stoke fear and tension between each other, leading to the Cold War and an arms race.
  4. North Korean propaganda: The regime in North Korea used propaganda to control the population and isolate it from the rest of the world.

Religious Propaganda

Religion has always had a profound influence on human society and has not been immune to the use of propaganda. Throughout history, various religious institutions have actively employed propaganda to strengthen their power, spread their teachings, and shape societal norms.

One prominent example of religious propaganda is the Middle Ages. During that time, the Catholic Church used art, literature, and sermons as means of propaganda to implant its doctrine into society. Frescoes, stained glass windows, and sculptures depicted religious stories, reinforcing the Church’s teachings. This led to religious homogeneity and coherence in society, but also suppressed critical thinking and alternative spiritual practices.

A conceptual fine art illustration in the style of René Magritte, portraying a man whose head is replaced by a twisted mirror reflecting distorted media symbols. In the background, a crowd of similar figures march towards a looming propaganda machine under a stormy sky

3 Ways of Propaganda

Let’s delve into the methods of propaganda, which can usually be divided into three main groups: emotional manipulation, distortion of information, and social pressure.

The first group is emotional manipulation. You probably remember times when you were provoked on “sensitive” topics to confuse you and influence your decision, right? That’s emotional manipulation. It can manifest as fear, nostalgia, admiration, or even anger. All of these are used to influence your emotions and make you act in a certain way.

The second group is distortion of information. This is when you are presented with information in a way that makes it seem different from what it actually is. It can be distortion of facts, half-truths, or even outright lies. The goal here is to confuse you and make you adopt the manipulator’s point of view.

And finally, the third group is social pressure. We all want to be part of society, and manipulators use this against us. They can make you feel “different” if you don’t agree with their point of view. Social pressure is a powerful tool used to control the masses.

Emotional Manipulation

For example, the famous poster “I Want You for U.S. Army” depicting Uncle Sam pointing at us. This poster evoked feelings of patriotism and duty towards the country.

Emotional manipulation in propaganda is the use of information to evoke specific emotions, rather than for objective understanding. For example, messages like “if you don’t support us, you’re a traitor.” Here, fear of being ostracized from society and a sense of guilt are being used.

Sometimes propaganda creates an atmosphere of fear, only to offer “salvation” later. For instance, “the world is on the brink of catastrophe, but if you vote for our candidate, everything will change for the better.”

Distortion of Information

Propaganda distorts reality, presenting us with only a shadow of the true state of affairs. Sometimes, this is done so skillfully that we don’t even realize that we are looking at a distorted image.

Why is this so important? Remember how negative information about a presidential candidate quickly spread and created a negative impression of him. This is an example of “black PR” in politics. As for “fake news” on social media, they can cause panic and conflicts in society.

How can we recognize distortions and resist them? First and foremost, we must remember that propaganda rarely uses outright lies. More often, it is half-truths, where some facts are exaggerated while others are omitted. It is necessary to see both sides of the conflict, not just one.

Social pressure

It can act not only through direct influence, but also through subtle mechanisms of interpersonal interaction. It is easy to succumb to public opinion, especially if that opinion is shared by your friends, colleagues, or favorite bloggers.

Examples of social pressure can be found in both history and modern times. Stereotypes about people’s appearance or the “right” way of life often emerge on social media and are actively promoted in advertising and the media. Various groups, whether political parties or religious organizations, use social pressure to strengthen their power and influence.

A contemporary example of social pressure is the spread of propaganda through social media. “Trolls” and “bots” can create the illusion of a large number of people supporting a certain idea, which puts pressure on real users.

dystopian science fiction illustration in the style of H.R. Giger, displaying a massive, menacing AI entity, symbolizing propaganda, looming over a city. Its tentacle-like cables extend into homes, subtly manipulating the inhabitants. In contrast, a group of enlightened individuals stands against the entity, their minds shielded by glowing auras. The background, a cityscape, is filled with billboards and screens transmitting the AI’s messages

Future of propaganda

Modern technologies have a strong impact on propaganda, and artificial intelligence is becoming an important tool in its arsenal. Artificial intelligence not only helps create advertising banners based on your preferences, but it is also capable of generating disinformation, manipulating public opinion on social media, and creating personalized propaganda messages.

Artificial intelligence can distort facts, create fake news, and even generate entire articles that reinforce a specific point of view. It is important to develop critical thinking, analyze and evaluate information, fact-check, and verify sources. Media literacy is becoming one of the key skills of the 21st century.

The future of propaganda is unpredictable, but we can be certain of one thing: it will continue to evolve and adapt to new conditions and technologies. Therefore, it is important to learn to recognize propaganda in everyday life and resist its influence.

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