A Quick Lesson in Detecting Propaganda

Language changes our perception.

One word can make you hallucinate. Changing a single word in a sentence is enough for you to remember seeing something that never happened. Our minds and memories are malleable. Those that understand the power that language has over shaping our perception can end up becoming the purveyors of propaganda. Influencing the masses with nothing more than a few carefully selected words.

Language is the vehicle of propaganda.

I’ve written before about how fickle our memories are. Look at the 1974 Loftus and Palmer study. They got a group of students together to witness a car crash that had been filmed. They were asked “About how fast were the cars going when they (smashed / collided / bumped / hit / contacted) each other?”. Depending on what verb was used in the question, depends on how fast they thought the vehicle was going. They all saw the same crash, yet one word changed how fast they perceived the cars were going because each of the verbs have a non-direct indication of speed.

People also hallucinated seeing broken glass when the verb “smashed” was used. There was no broken glass. Language is how we see the world and words change our perception of events. Do not be so arrogant as to think that you are able to find a way around this. We’re human, and switching a word is all it takes for your memories to change in real time. It can be one word of difference. One word.

The Propaganda:

The purpose propaganda is to manipulate how you feel about something and to influence your thought process. Propaganda isn’t always easy to spot. You’re not supposed to notice it affecting you. When people hear the word propaganda they imagine big, bold obvious Nazi and World War 2 posters. But do not be fooled into thinking that just because we’re not in the 40s that propaganda does not exist. It’s not dead. Far from it. There’s modern day propaganda all around us. I’ve written previously about how the news is no longer the news and how pervasive and pernicious disinformation can be. Here I’ll show you a simple modern day example which would slip past most people.

Read it, and read it again till you can see the difference.

I’m not using hyperbole here when I say - this is not news. This is propaganda. Just because it’s not from an overtly evil Nazi outlet does not mean that it’s not propaganda (there’s also no reason why propaganda couldn’t be used for good either). Lots of new agencies these days are not in the business of delivering you information, they’re in the business of telling you how you should feel about the information they’re providing. Let’s break it down.

The first main word you see is the one that sticks in your mind the most. Humans are weird like that. The first one is that Kavanaugh was accused. When you hear someone is accused, there are undertones that it must be because they’re guilty. Compared to if someone denied allegations, it makes it seem like it’s the allegations that are false. Kavanaugh aggressively denied these claims. It’s also worth noting that the word “allegations” was never used in Kavanaugh’s headline.

So why did they choose to use the word “accused” for Kavanaugh over “denied” for Cuomo? Well, CNN being obvious the left leaning publication it is, dislikes Kavanaugh being on the Supreme Court. They want their audience to dislike him as well. Cuomo doesn’t get the same treatment because they’re politically aligned. See how you’re not just being told the information, but you’re being told how to feel about each of these men before even beginning to read the article. The sly and subtle difference in language is very telling when you know how to spot it.

If you were dealing with the news, you would see a more objective title for both of these stories. But we’re not dealing with news, we’re dealing with propaganda. This change in framing between “accused” and “denied” is no accident. It is no coincidence. This is done on purpose with the sole intent to influence your feelings and perception. The people at CNN and other major media companies KNOW how the use of language can be used to form opinion, even before any of the facts are presented. They have carefully selected each word to illicit the emotions that they want you to feel. I will repeat with no hyperbole - this is propaganda. Obviously, not everything CNN prints is propaganda and they’re not the only ones who participate in this method of using words to frame situations differently. But this is a great example that I thought I would point out.

That is your quick lesson in spotting propaganda. Subtle changes in language is all that’s needed to gently push people to form an opinion that is not their own. Sometimes it’s hard to spot, other times they can be brazen and hypocritical about their views like Dahlia Lithwick is below: