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  • Hannah Johnson

Top 10 Insights of Learning about Propaganda


1. Propaganda definition: Pre-COM416 vs. Post-COM416

There are thoughts that I had surrounding what I assumed I knew about propaganda before take Professor Hobbs class. What came to mind when thinking of propaganda was rallies and posters with people chanting and cheering a slogan. I believed this to be the only characteristics to define what propaganda was. It had to be a blatant promotion of one side or view with flashy campaigning. During the first week on class, I soon realized that I had been misinformed. Propaganda as a definitive word was first described in the “seventeenth-century Roman Catholic Commission of Cardinals set up by the pope for the propagation of the Catholic faith” (Welch, 2003). Now, flash forward to the twentieth century there are many differing connotations of the meaning of propaganda. Some view it as a weapon, form of art, and even a tool to unify or divide people (Curnalia, 2005). An aspect that changed the way that I viewed propaganda was that it isn’t always in plain sight. Unless you are well versed in what to look for, most of the time we view pieces of propaganda without even realizing it. After this class I have a much better understanding of how propaganda is defined in the twentieth century.

2. A Quick and Easy “How to” on Examining Propaganda

Jowett and O’Donnell created a 10-step plan on how to analyze propaganda. The main goal at the end of this process is to determine the purpose of the propaganda (Jowett & O’Donnell, 2012).

“The 10 divisions for propaganda analysis are as follows:

1. The ideology and purpose of the propaganda campaign

2. The context in which the propaganda occurs

3. Identification of the propagandist

4. The structure of the propaganda organization

5. The target audience

6. Media utilization techniques

7. Special techniques to maximize effect

8. Audience reaction to various techniques

9. Counterpropaganda, if present

10. Effects and evaluation

Keeping these steps in mind from now on will not only be helpful in my academic career, but my future life as well. “Propaganda is a deliberate and systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist” (Jowett & O’Donnell, 2012). That being said, it is important to know what I am consuming from everyday propagandists. Before this class, I was a mindless consumer and never really put thought into what I was reading and viewing. Throughout the semester I become more and more astonished of how much I was letting simply slip by me without a second thought. I believe by using Jowett and O’Donnell’s 10 step plan for analyzing propaganda will be beneficial to my future as a media consumer. It is to think I will just avoid propaganda because it is integrated into our daily lives now. Instead of being ignorant, I can now have the confidence to examine it and make a comprehensive decision.

3. Bad News Game- Yes, where you try to be Corrupt as Possible


The Bad Newsgame had me going against every instinct and moral that I had ever known. I completely failed my first time around playing. I then realized that the purpose of the game was to be a fake new- monger. Basically you must do anything no matter how unethical to build your “persona as an unscrupulous media magnate.” The game is meant to educate players in recognizing disinformation on online platforms, such as Twitter. It demonstrates how easy it is to spread disinformation through media today. I got as high as 9,000 followers along with received the 6 badges of disinformation. Even though I did so well in the game the second time around, this was not the major takeaway. After playing “Bad News” I realized how vulnerable I was to fall into the same trap. It is so easy for anyone to fake credibility with a substantial amount of followers and somewhat believable tweets. As someone who grew up with social networking sites, I thought I was proficient in deciphering reality and falsehood. This game opened my eyes to the importance of really doing my own research before I believe some tweet or post.

4. How to Take Down Fake News


This task is not easy as we have consistently come back to this conclusion. The term fake news has only become so well-known since the election of our current president, Donald Trump. This is when the term also became known to me as well. This is also what prompted me in taking interest in taking COM416. One of the articles I read in Week 4 really intrigued me and that was Nicholas Lemann’s, “Solving the Problem of Fake News.” Lemann takes a stance on how to balance journalism’s role in the world of politics and propaganda. He says to, “expand the real-news ecosystem as much as possible, by training people in how to do that work and by strengthening the institutions that will publish and broadcast it” (Lemann, 2016). What I have learned from this article and over the semester, is that this will not be an easy battle. This “take down” of fake news is especially difficult for platforms such as journalism. In a world where most social media users turn to Twitter or Facebook for their news, journalism is suffering economically. People love fake news so

much because they find it to be the most captivating and appealing to their opinions. So the biggest transformation that I have taken away from this semester is that to take down fake news, we as a society have to change.

5. Is your Favorite Influencer a Poser?

Taylor Lorenz strikes every young social media follower to the core with her article titled, “Rising Instagram Stars Are Posting Fake Sponsored Content.” She completely exposes many of these “paid sponsors” on social media sites, such as Instagram and will have you questioning everything you have ever seen on your feed. Lorenz sheds light on yet another way viewers may be getting misinformed. Basically just about anyone can go out, purchase a product, and post w witty caption with the nice picture of the product. By tagging the company in the post and making it seem like they were sponsored to post this, they are posing as an influencer. This was a revelation to me as the thought had never crossed my mind. The numerous influencers that I follow all seemed legitimate enough to me. Over the course of the semester I learned that there is a serious amount of disinformation in the media. One way that this “fake it, until you make it” profile will back fire is the complete lack of trust that will arise. Now when I see sponsored content, I always double question it. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it has definitely made my social media scrolling different. I do not believe everything that I see and find myself always on the look-out for forms of propaganda.

6. The Invisible Children

This video brought me back immediately to young teenage Hannah. At the time of this video in 2012, this was everywhere. It was on the news, social media, and even ran in the papers. KONY 2012 took over that year as far as exposure goes. The video matters because it is not only a work of journalism, but activism and art as well. It really showcases these three elements so well. The KONY 2012 video was important to learn

about in this course. It is a prime example of reporting on the truth, and doing such an amazing job at it.

Besides the actual work behind the video, the cause was just as important. Giving a voice to the invisible children suffering in Uganda was long overdue. I also think this was an important key to learning in this course as well. Most of the time we discussed the negative impacts that come from the media and disinformation. While it is imperative to understand, I found it beneficial to look at the positive side of the media too. While the content of the KONY 2012 video is horrible and distressful, it targets its audience’s emotions. You feel for Jacob when he can’t contain his sadness about his brother’s death. I find the video to be beautifully done; so beautiful that I would consider it a work of art. Going back to the play on emotion, it makes people want to do something. This shows how the video is activism. Lastly, the journalism aspect is reporting on real and truthful news. Again, while it is unspeakably cruel what these children go through this video confirmed with me that media can still be used to present the good in the world.

7. Read, Share, Done.


An aspect that I realized was incorporated into my very being was the viral outragetrend on social media platforms. Jessi Hempel writes about this and uses the #MeToomovement as an example as what is wrong with social media. Every day I see and read postings about issues in today’s world. I even subscribe to http://change.org/which is a site that keeps me updated on problems daily. I receive at least one email a day that asks me to sign a petition with one click. I am then asked to chip in any amount of money. I have never donated once. This is not because I do not support the causes, but it ties into what Hempel writes about. “It harnesses social media’s mechanisms to drive users (that’s you and me) into escalating states of outrage while exhausting us to the point where we cannot meaningfully act” (Hempel, 2017). Social media has basically made us numb to tragedies because they filter through our newsfeed so much. We (including myself) now just automatically hit the share button whenever we see a post that sparks emotion. Hempel also talks about how this has become a norm and it is for “reputational benefit.” Now your entire following can see you take a stance on the issue. The point that she is trying to make is that yes, it is important to share these concerns so that others are informed; it is widely more important to take physical action in person. “We must put down our devices and talk to one another.” There is only so much that sharing an article, or signing a petition will do. As a society we need to take action towards these social realities.

8. Firehouse of Falsehood

A new term has been coined due to our “unique” president, Donald Trump. The term “firehouse of falsehood” means when a propagandist composes more lies than people can possibly keep up with (Vox, 2018). At the beginning of the semester I knew that we would at the very least touch upon President Trump’s obvious string of lies. This video made me realize just how extensive President Trump’s string of lies is. I always thought he had no idea what he was talking about and whatever came out of his mouth was nonsense. After watching Vox’s video about Why obvious lies make great propagandait dawned on me that President Trump is actually strategically stating these lies. President Trump knows that we he is saying is

hogwash, he even states in the video that he doesn’t stand by anything and that he has his own opinions. Basically, he is in the position to say whatever he wants. Fact checkers can consistently disprove the falsehoods that come out of President Trump’s mouth, they still carry weight to them and he knows it. “Research shows that if we hear a lie from multiple sources, we think of it as more credible” (Vox, 2018). As the lies keep coming, repeatedly, the more truthful it seems. President Trump knows this. This video opened my eyes that he isn’t as dumb as I thought he was. He knows that he is making propaganda out of his evident lies. I no longer go to sleep at night thinking our President may be the dumbest man alive, but rather he is manipulative to the point that it is almost impressive. I now have a new profound respect for President Trump that I never thought I would. I respect his ability to literally make up anything on the spot and vouch for its credibility with no factual evidence whatsoever. I can say that I will not miss him and this special talent when he is gone though.

9. Terrorism- Attacks Through our Screens

I never really thought that I was close to any terrorist groups. It had always been far and out of sight in my brain. This was ignorant on my part to think that terrorist groups wouldn’t use the world largest platform of human beings to recruit individuals. “Social media has empowered Isis recruiting, helping the group draw at least 30,000 foreign fighters, from some 100 countries, to the battlefields of Syria and Iraq” (Brooking, Emerson & Singer, 2016). In many ways COM416 has opened my eyes, but this may be the biggest way yet. In my hometown nestled in tiny Rhode Island, the effects of terrorism seemed like it was a world away. After taking this class and reading The Atlantic’s article, “War Goes Viral,” I now understand this is an issue right at my fingertips. #AllEyesOnISIS was a campaign launched in 2014 that is still remembered today. It announced the invasion of northern Iraq for the entire world to know. Terrorist groups can now “hold both physical and digital territory” (Brooking, Emerson & Singer, 2016). Although these groups may not be right outside your doorstep, they are in your homes technically. Social media has brought people together, but terrorists have weaponized this power.

10. I have the POWER

Over the course of this class, I have learned an immense amount about the features that make up propaganda. From the various definitions, to the purposes that it holds today, propaganda is everywhere. I now can confidently say that I will be much more aware of what I am consuming. Before COM416, I was mindlessly participating in news and social media. It is outrageous to think of the way I viewed propaganda before this semester. I am in control of what I give belief in to. This class and the materials taught is something that everybody could use in their lives. In Week 1 we watched the Mind Over Mediavideo and one question was “are you more powerful than propaganda?” With the tools I have added along with the knowledge I have gained, I can say that yes, I am more powerful than propaganda.



Spark Video:



Works cited

Brooking, Emerson & Singer, P.W. (2016, November). War Goes Viral: How Social Media is Being Weaponized. The Atlantic.

Hempel, J. (2017, October 18). The problem with #metoo and viral outrage. Wired.

Jowett, Garth and O’Donnell, Victoria (2012). Chapter 6. How to Analyze Propaganda.

Lemann, N. (2016). Solving the Problem of Fake News. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/solving-the-problem-of-fake-news

Me Too, Movement. (2019). Retrieved from https://metoomvmt.org/

Propaganda and Persuasion. 5th Edition. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Rebecca M.L. Curnalia (2005) A Retrospective on Early Studies of Propaganda and Suggestions for Reviving the Paradigm, The Review of Communication, 5:4, 237-257, DOI: 10.1080/15358590500420621

Welch, D. (2003). Propaganda, definitions of. In N. J. Cull, D. H. Culbert, D. Welch, Propaganda and mass persuasion: a historical encyclopedia, 1500 to the present. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. 

Why obvious lies make great propaganda. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=22&v=nknYtlOvaQ0

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