Radwan: We should not easily fall prey to propaganda

Aziz Radwan, Staff Writer

Although the use of propaganda dates back to ancient times, it has never been as powerful a tool in history as it has been recently, particularly since World War II (WWII). 

The availability of radio, television, printed newspapers, magazines and, of course, the internet has enabled propagandists to use these media tools for mass persuasion. Because they have been abusing these tools for decades, the term propaganda has carried negative connotations. For most people, propaganda brings to their minds brainwashing, big lies and tyranny. 

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines propaganda as “dissemination of information—facts, rumors, arguments, half-truths or lies—to influence public opinion”. It is a systematic effort to manipulate other people’s beliefs, attitudes or actions through symbols such as gestures, banners, monuments, insignias, music and so on.

Perhaps the most famous use of wartime propaganda was by Adolf Hitler during WWII. The best media tool he had at that time was the radio; yet, with it, he managed to convince his country of his beliefs in German racial superiority, the rejection of democracy and the dangers of communism. Hitler used propaganda to spread his beliefs and persuade his people and army to break out into WWII. He also succeeded in brainwashing Germans into believing that Jews were cosmic evil and Bolsheviks, and therefore, should be persecuted due to their inferior race. Hitler’s propaganda step was necessary to change Germans’ view of the Jewish people before initiating the Holocaust.

Dr. Joseph Goebbels, minister of propaganda for the German Third Reich, famously stated, “repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.” Repeating a lie time and again creates the illusion of truth. If you come to think carefully about what Goebbels stated, then you should realize that this law of propaganda has been used and constantly transformed as media tools developed over the past decades. Biased information is intentionally designed to shape public opinion. Today, governments and political parties spread propaganda to publicize a movement, a cause or a candidate. It affects the psychology of the target audience by evoking certain emotions, most notably, fear. When that audience responds emotionally, propaganda achieves its purpose.

One of the propaganda techniques frequently used today is the “plain folk” tactic, which is seen when a public figure intends to present themselves as an average person. For example, in May 2009, President Obama and then-Vice President Biden took a motorcade from the White House to a burger joint in Virginia to be filmed ordering burgers, which you can watch on YouTube. You can notice that both Obama and Biden ordered like an average person would, deliberately paying with cash instead of a credit card. The purpose of this video was to persuade the American public that Obama was down-to-earth, and despite being in the running for the leader of the free world, he was still a proud American. 

Another political propaganda tool being used is “false dilemma.” This technique was used recently by President Donald Trump during his 2016 election campaign. He promised to build a wall along the southern borders and repeatedly said that, if we don’t build it, we will soon have Mexican drug dealers, rapists and gangsters invading our country. Although his promise was controversial and, sometimes, divisive, it won him many supporters. When asked about the financial aspects of building a 2000 mile wall, he said he would have Mexico pay for it. We now all know this wall project was never completed. All that has been built is a 452-mile-long steel wall that United States’ taxpayers paid for, not Mexicans.

Increasing border security is not achieved by building a wall, but rather by investing in border patrol and surveillance technology. Trump advocated for the border wall likely for his own or the Republican Party’s benefit and not for America’s southern border security.

In today’s interconnected world, there are many other examples and techniques of propaganda around us. I also am positive we are going to see an increase in propaganda closer to the 2024 election cycle. We need to open our eyes and remain firm in our views despite what presidential candidates propagate. We shouldn’t let them play with our emotions because the lessons from the past teach us that they use propaganda only to serve their own hidden agendas.