Propaganda and deception in politics

Propaganda “is communication that is deliberately designed by one group in society to influence the attitudes and behavior of others. It often uses symbolism and rhetoric and appeals to the emotional and irrational aspects of our sensibility” (Propaganda. (2006). In D. G. Lilleker, Key concepts in political communication. Sage UK.).

Propaganda has been around for thousands of years, since at least the time of the Pharaohs in Egypt. Each successive development in communication technology (movable type, newspapers, telegraph, radio, television, Internet, social media, and onwards) have made the job of the propagandist easier and faster. The twentieth and twenty-first centuries have been filled with dictators, authoritarians, and wannabees who have made wide and destructive use of propaganda–Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot among others. Many contemporary politicians and political groups shamelessly use deceptive propaganda as well.

Is present-day political propaganda especially tied to groups that espouse right wing messages? Who ultimately benefits from this propaganda?

What does the research say?

*DiMaggio, A. R. (2022). Conspiracy Theories and the Manufacture of Dissent: QAnon, the ‘Big Lie’, Covid-19, and the Rise of Rightwing Propaganda. Critical Sociology, 48(6), 1025-1048. [Cited by]

“This paper examines the impact of partisanship, right wing media, and social media on attitudes about contemporary conspiracy theories. Mainstream scholarly views that ‘both sides’ of the political aisle indulge routinely in such theories are challenged. I adopt a Gramscian hegemonic framework that examines rising right wing conspiracy theories as a manifestation of mass false consciousness in service of a political-economic system that serves upper-class interests. Issues examined include the QAnon movement, ‘big lie’ voter fraud conspiracism, and Covid-19 conspiracy theories, and the way they related to partisanship, right wing media, and social media. I provide evidence that Republican partisanship, right wing media consumption, and social media consumption are all significant statistical predictors of acceptance of modern conspiracy theories.”

*Fazio, L. K., Brashier, N. M., Payne, B. K., & Marsh, E. J. (2015). Knowledge does not protect against illusory truth. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 144(5), 993-1002. [PDF] [Cited by]

“In daily life, we frequently encounter false claims in the form of consumer advertisements, political propaganda, and rumors. Repetition may be one way that insidious misconceptions, such as the belief that vitamin C prevents the common cold, enter our knowledge base. Research on the illusory truth effect demonstrates that repeated statements are easier to process, and subsequently perceived to be more truthful, than new statements. The prevailing assumption in the literature has been that knowledge constrains this effect (i.e., repeating the statement “The Atlantic Ocean is the largest ocean on Earth” will not make you believe it). We tested this assumption using both normed estimates of knowledge and individuals’ demonstrated knowledge on a postexperimental knowledge check (Experiment 1). Contrary to prior suppositions, illusory truth effects occurred even when participants knew better. Multinomial modeling demonstrated that participants sometimes rely on fluency even if knowledge is also available to them (Experiment 2). Thus, participants demonstrated knowledge neglect, or the failure to rely on stored knowledge, in the face of fluent processing experiences.”

*Lilleker, D. G. (2006). Key concepts in political communication. SAGE, 2006. [Cited by]

“This is a systematic and accessible introduction to the critical concepts, structures, and professional practices of political communication. Author Darren G. Lilleker presents more than 50 core concepts in political communication which cement together various strands of theory. From aestheticisation to virtual politics, he explains, illustrates, and provides selected further readings. He considers both practical and theoretical issues central to political communication and offers a critical assessment of recent developments in political communication.”

*Sirotkina, E. (2021). How biased media generate support for the ruling authorities: Causal mediation analysis of evidence from Russia. European Journal of Communication, 36(2), 183-200. [Cited by]

“If a medium has a monopoly in covering political news and daily distorts the news in favor of the ruling autocrat, how large will the persuasion effect be? Through which channels will such persuasion operate most? Working with a representative sample of the Russian population, I use a causal mediation analysis to explore whether (1) frequency of exposure and/or (2) reliance on biased reporting mediate the link between how people voted for incumbent elites and how they evaluate these elites in the present. Perceiving explicitly biased information as credible transmits a large and robust effect from voting to evaluation, while frequent exposure to this information produces an insignificant mediating effect. Another important finding is that the effect of perceived news credibility overrides the effect of previous electoral support: Accepting state propaganda as credible information converts people into regime supporters even if they did not support these elites at previous election.”

*Weiss, A. P., Alwan, A., Garcia, E. P., & Kirakosian, A. T. (2021). Toward a Comprehensive Model of Fake News: A New Approach to Examine the Creation and Sharing of False Information. Societies, 11(3), 82. [PDF] [Cited by]

“The authors discuss a new conceptual model to examine the phenomenon of fake news. Their model focuses on the relationship between the creator and the consumer of fake news and proposes a mechanism by which to determine how likely users may be to share fake news with others. In particular, it is hypothesized that information users would likely be influenced by seven factors in choosing to share fake news or to verify information, including the user’s: (1) level of online trust; (2) level of self-disclosure online; (3) amount of social comparison; (4) level of FoMO anxiety; (5) level of social media fatigue; (6) concept of self and role identity; and (7) level of education attainment. The implications reach into many well-established avenues of inquiry in education, Library and Information Science (LIS), sociology, and other disciplines, including communities of practice, information acquiring and sharing, social positioning, social capital theory, self-determination, rational choice (e.g., satisficing and information overload), critical thinking, and information literacy. Understanding the multiple root causes of creating and sharing fake news will help to alleviate its spread. Relying too heavily on but one factor to combat fake news—education level, for example—may have limited impact on mitigating its effects. Establishing thresholds for a certain combination of factors may better predict the tendency of users to share fake news. The authors also speculate on the role information literacy education programs can play in light of a more complex understanding of how fake news operates.”

See also:

The power of propaganda

Updated: Chatbots — propaganda is being taught how to speak

Online extremism: the dangers and the psychology

Technology will not protect us from human weakness–and can make it worse

Questions? Please let me know (engelk@grinnell.edu).

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