April 22, 2001
Propaganda and Public Information
By Royce Carlson
you ever bought something that you wish you hadnít solely because of an
influential sales person or advertisement? If you did, itís probably because
someone studied the relatively new science of influence and used it to convince
you to buy. The same science is used in politics to get us to vote for
candidates or against them, to vote for propositions or against them and to
ignore or pay attention to what particular governments are up to. If you are
someone who resists the corporatization of the world and fights manipulation
wherever you see it, you need to know your enemy and his/her tactics. Those
tactics involve the use of words to influence people.
Words are powerful. We use the word "propaganda" to describe
information campaigns that we donít like but might use the words "public
information" to describe the same type of campaigns that we do like.
Propaganda has a negative connotation and public information has a positive
one, or at least a neutral implication. The way words are assembled can have
very different effects and, since World War II, those effects have been
meticulously studied as part of the science of social psychology.
Take "green-washing" for example. Green washing is a technique
used to create a positive environmental public image that is in opposition to
the real activities of a government, organization, or corporation. When an oil
company spends $100,000,000 to tell you how it spent $2,000,000 on the
environment in order to convince you how environmentally friendly it is, thatís
a green wash. There is a fairly recently formed organization called Republicans
for Environmental Responsibility. The name sounds nice doesnít it?
"Maybe those Republicans arenít all out to rape the land," you
might think after hearing the name. But this organization is not friendly to
the environment at all. It is sponsored by the mining and chemical industries
for the purpose of "using" the environment for their own gains. A
name like that is a green wash. It is purposely misleading to avoid attracting
attention from opposing groups. It would be far less successful if it was named
Republicans for Environmental Exploitation but definitely more accurate.
Check out this current news article on the
American Chemical Council's greenwash techniques published by CorpWatch, a
watchdog group working to keep corporations accountable for their actions:
Chemical Council Greenwash at Earth Day Conference -
uses tried and true greenwash techniques in response to 'Trade Secrets,'
the Bill Moyers expose of corporate malfeasance in the chemical industry.
- April 17, 2001
Advertisers, sales people, organizations and governments use words that
trigger our susceptibilities. In the U.S., people tend to have a conflicting
dynamic in their personalities where they want to be seen as unique and special
and at the same time they want to feel like they belong. This leaves us open to
ad campaigns that tell us to "be a rebel", "think
different", etc. by buying their products along with thousands of other
special and unique people just like us.
There are cultural norms that are also used to manipulate our behavior. Our
need for a reason to do things runs deep. If you ask someone to do something,
they will be more likely to do it if you give them a reason. Even a stupid
reason works better than no reason. The idea of fair exchange is built into our
psyches since childhood. If someone gives you something, you feel obligated to
give something back. Itís only fair, right? If an advertiser gives you a
"gift", no matter how worthless, the chances that you will
reciprocate by buying their product increases significantly.
Itís important to know how words are used to influence you if you want to
regain some control over your ability to resist, but not all use of words is
necessarily manipulative. You can use these same techniques ethically to
increase the chances that your message will be heard. Many non-profit
organizations use these techniques for fund raising and the funds raised can go
to very good causes. The key is to educate people, not manipulate and alienate
them. You can use these techniques to best present your case rather than
misrepresent it. The techniques of persuasion are powerful and, in order to
fight the good fight, we need to understand when they are being used against
us, and to know how to use them ethically to fight manipulation by others.
So far G.W. Bush has been pretty clumsy in his efforts to undermine the
environmental movement. Every declaration has been obvious and has catalyzed
environmentalists to action. This wonít go on for long. His administration
will wise up and soon he will be raping the environment and we will hardly know
about it unless we understand the techniques of manipulation and propaganda.
Here are some links to more information on the science of influencing behavior:
An Introduction to Social Influence
- This is a great site and was the inspiration for this article.
of Practical Persuasion and Influence - Details on human
susceptibilities and techniques used to influence people.
Psychological Warfare - A directory of links to sites on specific
propaganda from political to religious.
Techniques In Advertising, Media, Politics & Warfare - a class for
K-12 Teachers and students. Includes examples and images.
Science of Modern Propaganda - This web site is devoted to
operationally defining the various techniques of modern propaganda
You can reprint articles on the Zenzibar web site for free.
I am happy to help provide content for
your publication as long as I get credit.
To use an article in a print
publication you must credit the author and Zenzibar Alternative
Culture as the source, and include the web site address.
To republish a Zenzibar article on
your web site you must credit the author and Zenzibar Alternative
Culture as the source and include a clickable link to Zenzibar at http://zenzibar.com Please tell
me if you are going to
reprint an article by e-mailing me
and mentioning the name of the article and where and when it will be
To link to the article on
Zenzibar's site you can do a text link without any restrictions (you
don't even have to tell me, but it would be nice to know).
If you want to use the image
associated with the article you are welcome to use it as long as you
don't change it or use it in any way other than to link to the article
at Zenzibar. Also, please tell me if you are going to use the graphic. If you have any questions, please