Propaganda is sponsored information that uses cause‐ and emotion‐laden content to sway public opinion and behavior in support of the source's goals. Propaganda utilizes mass media to cultivate a propaganda mind, that is, the individual in relationship to the masses, such as society or large groups. The majority view of propaganda today is neutralist: it is generally accepted that propaganda is here to stay and the need now is to figure out how to delineate the good from the bad. In the twenty‐first century, the rise of fake news and disinformation campaigns have expanded the continuum of what constitutes the darker forms of propaganda. On its face, the ethics and standards of respectable journalism eschews propaganda goals altogether, but increasingly treads into its path through the rising waters of credibility, narrativity, opinion shaping, entertainment, and storytelling that have increasingly replaced the higher standard of objective, facts‐centric truth. To various degrees, the influencers and respectable journalists are immersed in propaganda channels, much more so than the general population, which has neither the means nor interest in distinguishing information from propaganda. The propaganda that we so often disdain is here to stay.
California State University, Fullerton, USA
Propaganda is sponsored information that uses cause- and emotion-laden content to
sway public opinion and behavior in support of the source’s goals. Propaganda uti-
lizes mass media to cultivate a propaganda mind, that is, the individual in relation-
ship to the masses, such as society or large groups. Propaganda is not associated with
person-to-person communication. As an example, the sharing of gossip or a rumor
with a co-worker around the water cooler is not propaganda, but the spreading of such
a rumor through a company email sent to all employees could be constituted as such.
Without some form of mass media as its vehicle, propaganda cannot function or our-
ish since its intended goal is to alter public belief systems and hinder critical conscious
awareness. To this end, propaganda must be viewed as a mass-mediated environmental
phenomenon deeply embedded in culture.
Universally recognized in propaganda denitions is an understanding that the
propaganda source operates in a deliberate and intentional manner. e propaganda
stimulus is designed to evoke a response, which is the desired intent of the propagandist
(Jowett & O’Donnell, 2006). Intention is the central feature of propaganda and its
evaluation, the eectiveness or ethics of propaganda, is secondary to intention (Taylor,
2003). e majority view of propaganda today is neutralist: it is generally accepted
that propaganda is here to stay and the need is how to gure out how to delineate the
good from the bad. is scientic approach, to identify and measure, in propaganda
analysis grew exponentially from Laswell’s o-cited reference (1928, p. 264) that
propaganda is “a mere tool, no more moral or immoral than a pump handle” or that
“propaganda begets propaganda.” In the 1960s, a Lasswell acolyte Leonard Doob (1966)
reinforced the deterministic reputation of propaganda when he said that propaganda
has inevitability in mass media relations, and though it has an odorous sound and
evil reputation, it cannot be easily exorcised through some purication ceremony. e
quick denunciation from a layperson at even hearing the word propaganda persists.
Further, the condemnation of any and all propaganda is oen used as a name-calling
device to dismiss anything that is oensive to the listeners ears or eyes. And yet, the
mediated communication classic of the 1930s, “who says what in what channel to
whom with what eect,” is the most fundamental formula of propaganda. With it, the
analyst can hone in on the identity of the propagandist (who), the content or message
(what is said or presented), the media channel used (e.g., lm, radio, speeches, social
network), and the outcome (eect). e education about propaganda is a powerful
and more productive task than the denunciation of its use. As Ellul (1957) writes,
“Propaganda will always triumph over information Wherever there is propaganda,
e International Encyclopedia of Journalism Studies. Tim P. Vos and Folker Hanusch (General Editors),
Dimitra Dimitrakopoulou, Margaretha Geertsema-Sligh and Annika Sehl (Associate Editors).
© 2019 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2019 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
DOI: 10.1002/9781118841570.iejs0267
information, if it is to survive, must utilize the same weapons. It must engage in a
struggle against the inaccuracy of the facts proclaimed by propaganda.”
As a modern communication tool, propaganda became famous as a twentieth-century
phenomenon aer World War I when it transitioned from a practice predominantly
associated with warfare to the social milieu of promotion and public relations. e
concept of propaganda, as conceived by scholarsandpractitioners,wasseenasexisting
the ethical intention and level of transparency. e worst propaganda was the outright
lie with undisclosed source. is oense, in order to reshape public opinion in support
of its anonymous sponsor, is far aeld from a professional public relations counsel
who packages promotional facts on behalf of his client that shield the big picture.
Nevertheless, each falls under a process that the father of public relations Edward
Bernays (1928) called the “engineering of consent.” Propaganda is to information
engineering as the welder is to fusing metals. e dierence is ethical consideration
for what to leave in or out. A full airing of points of view and the facts, along with
a debate over those points, is not the realm of the information engineer in service
narrative in support of predetermined goals.
Bernays advocated for a new type of information warfare—the regiment of the public
mind at the level of communication strategy and discipline that, heretofore, had been
reserved for military boot camps to prepare soldiers for the physical challenges of war.
Committee, a World War I propaganda initiative of the U.S. government chaired by
contemporaries, did not view engagement in propaganda campaigns as a negative activ-
tional interpretation of propaganda that perpetuates two logical fallacies that extend
to the twenty-rst: the either/or fallacy and the name-calling fallacy. e rst assump-
tion is that all propaganda is bad, biased, deceitful, hidden, and based on lies, and that
ond assumption associates propaganda with a vilied group, category, or person; for
example, Communists, Reds, the Taliban, ISIS, Hitler, Stalin, Kim Jong-un, or Don-
fascist societies gives the term its almost universal negative reputation. Adolf Hitler is
recalled for brand associating “the big lie” propaganda technique (Mein Kampf, 1925)
with an international conspiratorial Jewry intent on world domination through craing
falsehoods onto simple minds and bringing World War II to Germany. Any anti-Semitic
mass murder that resulted could then be distorted into a retaliatory self-defense of the
Fatherland. One of the worst genocides in world history led in part to a Western repug-
e moral condemnation of all things propaganda does not serve the public well
if its common understanding is just information that oends or is evil. It is more
accurate to associate propaganda with manipulation of public opinion by the sponsor
of the propaganda. It is understandable that authoritarian governments would use
manipulation to conceal the truth, but what of democracies that espouse the free
ow and exchange of ideas? One of the fathers of communication and the most
well-known journalist on public opinion and the press, Walter Lippmann (1922),
describes propaganda as a barrier between the public and an event. Because people
physically cannot be everywhere and experience events in real time, they must rely
a lter and agenda-setter for the public and the public relies on the press system to
present a picture of event reality, always incomplete and massaged by the reporter,
editor, or producer biases and preferences for how to tell the story of the event. Because
of the incomplete picture of reality supplied by the media, the public naturally forms
reporter or person on the street.
French sociologist Jacques Ellul (1965) said that modern propaganda cannot
exist without mass media, but there was an antidote: if there are large numbers of
on centralized information control, private or state monopoly; such centralization is a
prerequisite for it. Decentralization is a propaganda weakening agent. is does not,
however, allow the individual person to breathe any easier that s/he is immune from
propaganda eects simply because the mass media is less centrally controlled. e act
of media consumption—the click of the keyboard, the turn of the newspaper page, the
entering of the movie theater—opens the door to propaganda. e age of the Internet
in the 1990s and the dependency on social media giants like Facebook and Twitter for
news in the 2000s allows even more doors to propaganda consumption.
Individuals generally consume mass media that contain opinions and ideas with
which they agree or support. Propaganda is oen associated with changing opinions,
but social inuence scholars argue that changing xed opinions is dicult. A more
ecient propaganda comes in the form of reinforcing opinions and intensifying beliefs
to convert them into action.
Harold Lasswell, a leading U.S.-based academic in propaganda research, sought to
replace crude and base forms of propaganda that lead men to war and conict with
democratic propaganda. Lasswell’s famous denition (1927) about propaganda—the
management of collective attitudes by the manipulation of signicant symbols (words,
pictures, tunes)—recognizes that propaganda is necessary in a democracy where people
and violence. His dictum: “Democracy has proclaimed the dictatorship of palaver, and
the technique of dictating to the dictator is named propaganda.”
Lasswell, Bernays, and Lippmann proposed that propaganda should not escape
responsible hands. eir orthodox view of the submissive, ill-informed masses was a
reection of wartime experience where they saw the public respond, impulsively and
without thinking, to enemy and allied propaganda campaigns. Hence, to overcome
what Lippmann referred to as a tendency for the masses to behave like a “bewildered
herd” (Public Opinion, 1922), what was needed was a specially trained group of social
scientists who could best manage content and distribution to deliver propaganda for
Oce of War Information in World War II and post-World War II agencies involved
in countering communism during the Cold War, such as the United States Information
Agency, the Oce of International Information and Educational Exchange, and the
State Department.
Nevertheless, a natural repugnance against any acknowledgment of propaganda used
in a democracy is the norm. If acknowledged, the understanding is that propaganda
is used as a last resort or in pursuit of or response to enemy propaganda. During the
Cold War (1945–1991), democratic propaganda was cast as a response to the totalitar-
ian propaganda of the Soviet Union, a necessary evil of a democratic capitalist society
like the United States to ward o the greater evil of communism. States caught in the
middle of the USSR and USA information war were subject to a competitive propa-
ganda that integrated economic progress with ideological superiority. Aer the Cold
War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, propaganda did not end but transformed
into maintenance of the victor, democratic capitalism (in the case of the United States),
or retreat and rebuilding on the part of the former Soviet satellite states. Twenty-ve
years aer the fall of the USSR, new terms like “fake news” and “disinformation” would
enter into the mainstream and spotlight eorts by Russia to use authoritarian methods
to weaken democratic societies from their ideological advantage, including to the point
of threatening the outcomes of elections in the United States and France.
e utilization of propaganda is value-neutral. It is not good or bad as all social insti-
tutions (government, commercial, citizen-based) use propaganda in various forms and
degrees for their own purposes. According to Bernays (1928), the test of propagandas
good or bad evaluation lies in its utilitarian value, the merit of the cause or campaign,
and how close to the truth is the information presented. us, the ethical questions
always associated with propaganda involve its means/ends agreement or lack thereof
and its asymmetrical nature: the exchange of information always favors the sponsor
of propaganda. At best, propaganda involves pro-social causes that do not stray too
far from the truth; at worst, propaganda serves strictly a pro-source function that uses
Propaganda exists in the world of symbolic representation. Words alone—in the form
of signs, leaets, posters, political advertisements—do little to sway the mass mind
of the individual in a crowd. What is needed is an action or event that elevates the
nalists of the twentieth century, Edward R. Murrow, became the director of the U.S.
Information Agency during the Kennedy years. He said that the United States would be
evaluated not on what it professed to be to the world but on what it did to the world.
e American-style propaganda of the deed would far outweigh anything the United
States would tell the world. e propaganda of the deed is more eective and longer
lasting and words alone can only serve as an adjunct to action to cheer on the eort.
American reputation would strengthen on “what we are than by what we say we are.”
Murrow also believed in telling the truth. Truth is the best propaganda, whenever pos-
sible, and within the constraints of policy decision making and the bureaucracy. at
truth, according to Murrow, was dened by a market-driven economy with democratic
values in competition with another ideology, the national socialism of the communist
the lesser and more insidious communist ideology.
In a post-Cold War, multipolar and networked world, propaganda’s relationship to
the truth is indierent at best. Objective reality (just the facts) promotion is anathema to
propagandas ends, which makes propaganda stand aside from best eorts in education
and journalism. But people do not always follow a code of ethics or institutional
standards. Credible reality suces. Does the information pass the believability test
is sucient for most minds cluttered with information overload. is may be the
moment that the educational system steps in to stem the tide of bad propaganda, but
the push for more education and critical thinking approaches to teaching is not enough
of a prophylactic against the intentional distortions, misrepresentations, and lies that
circulate among the facts on the ground. All it might take is for one person to question
the motives of the educator to turn that person into a propagandist intent on shading
for good is believed.
Propaganda and education rhetorically converge in service to civic responsibility, be
it a democratic or authoritarian state. e authoritarian state is more obvious in its
lack of choice in the matter, but even in a democratic setting, adherence to dominant
civic values is promoted as a mobilizing and stabilizing factor. e National Education
Association (1918) linked civic education in the secondary school to understanding
the ideals of American democracy and advocated loyalty to these ideas. Each pupil
was required to work cooperatively with his/her classmates to keep the nation true to
the “best inherited conceptions of democracy.” e intended outcome was collective
responsibility and thinking, albeit in a democratic setting. Ten years later, the progres-
sive educational reformer John Dewey (1929) would return from a trip to Soviet Russia
to proclaim propaganda is education and education is propaganda; the authoritarian
how to preserve democratic ideals since so many were unable or unwilling to participate
or were indierent to policy and politics.
tion campaigns have expanded the continuum of what constitutes the darker forms of
propaganda. Whereas fake news suggests lies that present themselves in news media
platforms, the label itself has no clear denition. As an utterance, (“Fake news!”) it is
a modern name-calling diversionary device used by heads of state in democracies to
shout down journalists whose stories are judged as biased or running contrary to the
goals of the elected chief executive in charge. It is also dened as a clandestine and
illegitimate propaganda campaign to inuence targets using legitimate broadcast or
social media platforms. e bystander public has to make one of two choices. In the
ond instance, if you trust the media channel, then you are susceptible to the dubious
fake news content. e absolute truth is less important than the allegiance to a partic-
conducted by global communications rms Edelman (Gower, 2016) and Gallup (Swi,
2016) downgrade the legitimacy and trust level of news organizations and their ability
the label itself. A sure tactic to shout down a respectable back-and-forth dialogue is to
On its face, the ethics and standards of respectable journalism eschews propaganda
goals altogether, but increasingly treads into its path through the rising waters of
credibility, narrativity, opinion shaping, entertainment, and storytelling that have
increasingly replaced the higher standard of objective, facts-centric truth. Relative
truth or post-truth boundaries abound and have become acceptable lters through
to dwarf any growth in traditional journalism whose mission for many was to serve
war room expands from the state to terror networks. To some journalists, it is ever too
burdensome to have to be responsible for truth and righteousness when what they seek
is a larger market for their stories, not necessarily a channel to serve as societys moral
conscience. And yet, society cannot thrive if led by propagandists whose mission it
is to divide and conquer. e propagandists are not knowledge and understanding
generators, since the values attached to these pursuits do not align with the goals of the
propagandists. It leaves journalism to take on more ethical obligations to truth-pursuit,
despite its misgivings and burdensome objections.
In 1922, the Encyclopedia Britannica dened propaganda’s character aw in terms of
an “indierence to truth,” in that truth “is valuable only so far as it is eective.” In 2016,
Oxford Dictionaries named “post-truth” the word of the year, dening it as “in which
objective facts are less inuential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and
personal belief.” In that nearly 100-year span, the nature of propaganda has not changed
from one of perversion of facts. Cunningham (2002) posits that propaganda uses truth
as a strategy tool. Other than that utilitarian value, truth oers nothing. is begs the
question if the mass public is seeking truth in the rst place. It could be that more of a
tribal-like community or shared experience in belief systems is sought; if so, then the
need for propaganda to gratify the appetite for a need to belong, empower, provide sim-
plistic answers, foment hatred, and even combat loneliness, will circumvent any need for
truth. A quantitative study of news consumption on the world’s largest social network,
Facebook, (Schmidt et al., 2017) concluded that homogeneous segregation and polar-
ization prevail despite the vast diversity in information presentation and heterogeneous
While truth may not be the highest virtue of information collection on a mass scale,
client to share the burden of responsibility through making informed choices based
on the facts at hand. When propaganda enters the communication process, the bur-
den of responsibility oen shis. e mass consumer, citizen, or client is not expected
to carry the burden of responsibility, moral or political, but oen gives up the author-
ity, agency, and responsibility to the power sponsoring the propaganda. is creates
an appetite and addiction for more propaganda whereby the receiver descends into
a level of groupthink and jettisons rational judgment. With the monopolistic rise of
global mass media technology platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Google, the era
of such digital industries masquerading as open and neutral platforms for all ideas is
over. Rather, their acting as news aggregators, and, in some cases, witting or unwit-
ting distributors of fake news for prot, pulls them into the circle of journalistic debate
lic as end user, reader, or consumer distinguish one from the other. Increasingly, the
public’s appetite and attention is driven by the spectacular, vivid, and controversial. A
slower journalism, that elevates news values in pursuit of truthfulness, authenticity, or
real events, is being replaced by attention and acquisition—what prots the eye and
the bottom line—among the faster, ashier electronic media that have arisen in the
last two decades. e vast economies of scale at which these electronic media oper-
ate, and the vast amount of both reliable and unreliable information, overshadow the
individual’s ability to assess information at the source. And yet, the individual has a
built-in reliance on the print and electronic media for current and public aairs, despite
a rising skepticism about how reliable and trustworthy all that news and information
really is.
Today’s media, from traditional print and broadcast to social media and search
engines, has become the least trusted global institution (Edelman Trust Barometer,
2018), with a majority worried about the source reliability of news. Political leaders are
circumventing media outlets in favor of speaking directly to the public, playing on the
public’s genuine fears that fake news is driving out real news. In this milieu of corporate
media concentration and media distrust, propaganda thrives. e propagandist is
concerned not with epistemic journalistic standards of evidence, accuracy, or reliability,
unless they are strategically useful; the preference is for building up belief in something
predetermined by the propagandist. Being informed and knowledgeable is a liability;
belief is everything to the propagandist, as is emotional and unexamined allegiance to
the goals of the propagandist.
hand, the only eective countermeasure (but no guarantee), would seem to be devel-
oping the critical mind and educating a generation of cultured and intelligent persons
who are knowledge wealthy in a vast array of subjects, including history, geography, and
political economy (Ellul, 1957). But intellectuals, the cultured, and respected journal-
ists, given their overcondence in the ability to discern, are susceptible to the power of
disinformation by their thirst for and greater participation in knowledge and cultural
industries. To various degrees, the inuencers and respectable journalists are immersed
in propaganda channels, much more so than the general population, which has neither
that we so oen disdain is here to stay.
SEE ALSO: Fake News; Political Economy of News; Public Relations/Strategic Com-
munications; Public Trust in News Media; Social Construction of News; Social Media
as Distribution Tool
Bernays, E. R. (1928). Propaganda.NewYork,NY:HoraceLiveright.
Cunningham, S. B. (2002). e idea of propaganda: A reconstruction. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Dewey, J. (1929). Impressions of Soviet Russia and the revolutionary world.NewYork,NY:New
Republic, Inc.
Doob, L. (1966). Public opinion and propaganda.NewYork,NY:HenryHolt.
Edelman Trust Barometer. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.edelman.com/trust-barometer
Ellul, J. (1957). Information and propaganda. Diogenes, 18, 61–77.
Ellul, J. (1965). Propaganda: e formation of men’s attitudes (K. Kellen & J. Lerner, Trans.). New
Yor k , N Y: K n opf .
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corporate reputation. doi: 10.4135/9781483376493.n106
Jowett, G., & O’Donnell, V. (2006). Propaganda and persuasion (4th ed.). London, UK: SAGE.
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Lasswell, H. D. (1928). e function of the propagandist. International Journal of Ethics, 38(3),
Lippmann, W. (1922). Public opinion.NewYork,NY:Harcourt,BraceandCompany.
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the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education,appointedbytheNationalEdu-
cation Association. (Bulletin, 1918, No. 35). Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED541063
Schmidt, A. L., Zollo, F., Del Vicario, M., Bessi, A., Scala, A., Caldarelli, G., Quattrocioc-
chi, W. (2017). Anatomy of news consumption on Facebook. PNAS, 114(12), 3035–3039.
Swi, A. (2016, September 14). Americans’ trust in mass media sinks to new low. Gallup, Wash-
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Further reading
Becker, E. (2001, November 11). A nation challenged: Hearts and minds – A special report. In
the war on terrorism, a battle to shape opinion. e New York Times, A1.
Lapowsky, I. (2018, February 13). Trust in social media withers in the industry’s own backyard.
Snow, N. (2013). Truth is the best propaganda: Edward R. Murrow in the Kennedy years (p. 212).
Washington, DC: Miniver Press.
St. John, B. III., & Lamme, M. O. (2011). e evolution of an idea: Charting the early public rela-
tionsideologyofEdwardL.Bernays.Journal of Communication Management, 15(3), 223–235.
Woolley, S. C., & Howard, P. N. (2017). Computational propaganda worldwide: Executive sum-
mary (Working Paper No. 2017.11). Computational Propaganda Research Project, Oxford,
UK: University of Oxford.
Nancy Snow is professor emeritus of communications at California State University,
Fullerton, U.S.A, and Pax Mundi (“Distinguished”) Professor of Public Diplomacy at
Kyoto University of Foreign Studies, Japan. She specializes in public diplomacy and pro-
paganda studies, specically the role of international communication in foreign policy,
national security, and nation branding. Snow is an editor or author of a dozen books,
including Propaganda, Inc.: Selling America’s Culture to the World;Information War;and
Propaganda and American Democracy.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
Social media heavily changed the way we get informed and shape our opinions. Users’ polarization seems to dominate news consumption on Facebook. Through a massive analysis on 920 news outlets and 376 million users, we explore the anatomy of news consumption on Facebook on a global scale. We show that users tend to confine their attention on a limited set of pages, thus determining a sharp community structure among news outlets. Furthermore, our findings suggest that users have a more cosmopolitan perspective of the information space than news providers. We conclude with a simple model of selective exposure that well reproduces the observed connectivity patterns.
Purpose – The aim of this work is to explore Edward L. Bernays' early evolution in thought concerning the rationale for public relations and to briefly discuss how these emergent ideological concepts have proven foundational for contemporary public relations. Design/methodology/approach – Bernays' ideological development in the decade after the First World War is traced through: his very early tactical work; his exposure to significant writings concerning the use of persuasion to manage the masses; and his own writings. Findings – Bernays, widely considered a pioneer in the field of public relations, exhibited a somewhat halting evolution in thought concerning the role of the new public relations professional. From 1920 through 1927, he normally described the public relations counsel as using propaganda to move masses toward the acceptance of good causes. However, by the end of the decade, his concept of the public relations person shifted toward emphasizing using propaganda as a pro‐social mechanism to convey the ideas of minority voices to targeted audiences. The latter view is a precursor to modern‐day understandings of public relations as an endeavor that attempts to build mutually beneficial relationships between a client and its relevant audiences. Originality/value – This paper offers a distinctive look at how, during a crucial decade, a pathfinder in US public relations developed rationales for the emergent field. The exploration of his evolving ideology provides a deeper view of how Bernays contributed to enduring concepts of a socially constructive practice of public relations.
A psychological approach to public opinion and propaganda is justified since both involve human behavior; this approach reduces the complexities to a common denominator. First are discussed the present status of psychology and the major principles of social behavior, the latter in terms of stimulus-response, personality, drive, reward and punishment, habits, attitudes and knowledge. Public opinion is then defined, its cultural background analyzed, and its behavior described in terms of such mechanisms as consistency, rationalization, displacement, projection. Opinion measurement is considered in 4 chapters on sampling, interviewing and question-wording, the evaluation of polls, and intensive measures. The final chapter on this subject deals with the importance of public opinion. The next 7 chapters are on propaganda, its nature, practitioners, content, perception, learning, and relation to personality and action. Various media of propaganda, such as the press, radio, and motion pictures, are described and analyzed in 3 chapters. Finally the author discusses the value of the analysis of the field as he has presented it. 38 references. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
The idea of propaganda: A reconstruction
  • S B Cunningham
Cunningham, S. B. (2002). The idea of propaganda: A reconstruction. Westport, CT: Praeger.