What is Propaganda?
Neil Postman once wrote that of all the words we use to talk about talk, the word “propaganda” is the most mischievous. That’s because the word has a wide variety of definitions. Consider the definitions below to identify common features of propaganda and notice how the definition has developed and changed over time:
1. Propaganda is one means by which large numbers of people are induced to act together.
-Bruce Lannes Smith and Harold Lasswell, authors of Propaganda, Communication and Public Opinion, 1946=
2. Propaganda is a form of information that panders to our insecurities and anxieties.
-Jacques Ellul, author of Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, 1962
3. 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.
-Garth Jowett and Victoria O'Donnell, authors of Propaganda and Persuasion, 1986
4. Propaganda is intentionally-designed communication that invites us to respond emotionally, immediately, and in a either-or manner.
-Neil Postman, author of Technopoly, 1994
5. Propaganda is a 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.
-Richard Alan Nelson, author of A Chronology and Glossary of Propaganda in the United States, 1996
6. Propaganda is indifferent to truth and truthfulness, knowledge and understanding; it is a form of strategic communication that uses any means to accomplish its ends.
-Walter Cunningham, author of The Idea of Propaganda, 2002
7. Propaganda is a form of communication aimed towards influencing the attitude of a population toward some cause or position.
-Wikipedia, entry on propaganda, 2008
8. Propaganda appears in a variety of forms. It is strategic and intentional as it aims to influence attitudes, opinions and behaviors. Propaganda can be beneficial or harmful. It may use truth, half-truths or lies. To be successful, propaganda taps into our deepest values, fears, hopes and dreams.
-Steven Luckert and Susan Bachrach, authors of The State of Deception, 2009