Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Changing Propaganda: How Social Media Gives Power to the Individual

posted by Karee Brown

It started as a simple trickle of water running down the walls in the bathroom of the hotel room, but it soon turned into a steady stream of water coming from the ceiling. It didn't take long for the paint to begin peeling and eventually some drywall began to fall from the ceiling. My dad had been in his hotel room for thirty minutes and it was already falling apart. It was late and he didn't want to waste his time talking to hotel management. So he tweeted about his hotel experience thus far. To his surprise, the hotel management contacted him within the hour and offered him a new room and reimbursement. 

Why did the hotel respond? Because what my dad had to say about the hotel management and maintenance would influence the way that other potential customers saw that hotel. If my dad was portraying a bad image, he could easily damage their reputation. He was using the leverage of propaganda to get what he wanted. Quality service.

There has been a shift in the use of propaganda from the twentieth to the twenty-first century. This shift hasn't just been the medium that is used, though that is a factor. The shift is mostly concerning who is distributing the propaganda and how much power that government, company, or individual has. Just like my dad was able to spread an opinion about a hotel room, you can have power to influence. 

Although these companies and government powers have a lot of influence,
you have more influence than you think. With the changes in propaganda from the twentieth to the twenty-first century (especially with social media), you can help government and companies use their powers to promote a more ethical society. 

Propaganda: Drama to Revolution

The use of false or exaggerated ideas and statements to spread the support for a cause or of a political leader has been used for centuries. Without physical copies of ideas like newspapers, posters, or brochures, the ancient Greeks spread their ideas through theater, the assembly, courts of law, and religious festivals. These spoken mediums were effective ways of sharing their political, social, and moral views. 

But the ability to share ideas exploded with the invention of the printing press. With physical copies, leaders, philosophers, and even common people could use propaganda to share ideas on a much larger scale. It was used as a means of spreading religious practices and beliefs to newly discovered countries in the seventeen century and for spreading patriotism during the American and French revolutions. I think the Greeks would have been proud of their use of technology to spread ideas. 

The Twentieth Century: Propaganda and War

Propaganda's effective power was recognized during WWI as Allied forces used stirring posters to inspire nationalism beyond the boarders of their own country. Their propaganda was so effective that the Axis powers began to study the Allies' methods. One of them, eventually mastered the use of propaganda. Hitler.

What do you know about Hitler? 
Until recently, I didn't know very much about Adolf Hitler other than the fact that he was a very persuasive person. While not for good, Hitler was able to persuade armies of people to join his side. Why? Because he knew what the people wanted and what they would fight for. After WWI, Germany had fallen into a financial depression and were being suppressed by clauses of the Treaty of Versailles. Germans wanted to become a powerful country once again. Hitler just had to inspire them to fight.
Photo credit by Diego Cavichiolli Carbone
In his book Mein Kampf, Hitler explains his background and how he rose his position of leadership. He also explains his opinion about propaganda and his study of the propaganda used by the Allied Forces and how it lead to their success: 
Unfortunately, everything was left to the other side [the Allies], the work done on our side being worse than insignificant. It was the total failure of the whole German system of information--a failure which was perfectly obvious to every soldier--that urged me to consider the problem of propaganda in a comprehensive way. I had ample opportunity to learn a practical lesson in this matter; for unfortunately it was only too well taught us by the enemy. (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf) 
After studying the principles of good propaganda used by the Allies, Hitler established a ministry of popular enlightenment and propaganda. The ministry created newspaper articles, films, and music that promoted nationalism and German superiority as well as portray the German government in a glorified manner. Hitler was a talented speaker and would also give compelling speeches which were broadcasted over the radio. With his ministry of popular enlightenment and propaganda, Hitler began to effectively use what he called "nothing but a weapon, and indeed a most terrifying weapon in the hands of those who know how to use it" (Mein Kampf). 

As a means of knowing how to best use propaganda, Hitler points out that one must know the audience being addressed and focus on appealing to that audience. 
Propaganda has as little to do with science as an advertisement poster has to do with art, as far as concerns the form in which it presents its message. . . . Here the art of propaganda consists in putting a matter so clearly and forcibly before the minds of the people as to create a general conviction regarding the reality of a certain fact, the necessity of certain things and the just character of something that is essential. . . . it must appeal to the feelings of the public rather than to their reasoning powers. (Mein Kampf
Hitler's use of propaganda truly was a weapon with a two-fold purpose. While the content he united and inspired Germans by creating a sense of pride with nationalism, he also began to unethically attack the Jewish population. Hitler believed that effective propaganda was more about the emotions that it evoked in the viewers. Because he was directing his propaganda at Germans, he wanted to connect emotion with a sense of pride and nationalism or remind them of the bitterness that WWI caused.  

The success of any advertisement, whether of a business or political nature, depends on the consistency and perseverance with which it is employed. (Mein Kampf)

The Twenty-first Century: Propaganda to PR

After WWII, the power of influence began to shift to the level of local government and large companies. Although propaganda was proven to be effective, it was often related to war and because Germans used it during WWII, it had negative connotations. While some companies would agree that advertisements needed to be consistent to be successful, the term propaganda was taboo. If companies wanted to be persuasive and use propaganda then, they would need to give propaganda a make over.

The Genius of Edward Bernays
Also called the "Father of Public Relations," Edward Bernays recognized "that the word 'propaganda' carries to many minds an unpleasant connotation. Yet whether, in any instance, propaganda is good or bad depends upon the merit of the cause urged, and the correctness of the information published" (Edward Bernays, Propaganda). He also pointed out that there was a shift in who was considered the voice of society.
Formerly the rulers were the leaders. They laid out the course of history, by the simple process of doing what they wanted. And if nowadays the successors of the rulers, those whose position or ability gives them power, can no longer do what they want without the approval of the masses, they find in propaganda a tool which is increasingly powerful in gaining that approval. Therefore, propaganda is here to stay. (Edward Bernays, Propaganda)
In order to avoid the risk of a negative connotation, he cleverly keyed the name to "Public Relations" because the leaders did, in fact, need to focus more on what the public wanted to hear. While the purpose and medium of PR was usually the same, Bernays took it to a whole new level by implementing psychology and ideas from his uncle Sigmund Freud. Unlike Hitler, to Brenays propaganda was a science.
[Public relations] takes account not merely of the individual, nor even of the mass mind alone, but also and especially of the anatomy of society, with its interlocking group formations and loyalties. It sees the individual not only as a cell in the social organism but as a cell organized into the social unit. Touch a nerve at a sensitive spot and you get an automatic response from certain specific members of the organism. (Edward Bernays, Propaganda)
That is exactly what Edward Bernays did. And he did it very well! Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant describe the guenious of Edward Bernays in a live podcast"Live in Chicago: How Public Relations Works" (think ancient Greek style combined with modern technology). They discuss campaigns that Brenays created to shape public opinion and increase the sales of certain products. From smoking cigarets to eating bacon, Bernays and his scientific approach to propaganda influenced the anatomy of society. 

Check out my playlist on YouTube for more videos about the influence of propaganda and PR. 

Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant talk about how companies began to face the problem of not being able to sell their products.  
[Companies] were saying, 'we need to sell people things they don't need.' And the best way to do that is to prime those unconscious desires, to prime those unconscious fears, and then in the next breath say, 'by the way, this product will fulfill all your desires or will vanquish all of your fears.' And people began to identify themselves with products. And that is all because of Bernays. (Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant, "Live in Chicago: How Public Relations Works")
As an examples, Clark and Bryant talk about Bernays's experience of being hired by the American Tobacco Company. Bernays was able to increase sales of cigarets by convincing the public that women should smoke by making it a matter of women's rights and then broadcasting the movement on national news. Another employer, The Beechnut Packing Company, asked Bernays to help boost the sales of bacon. Bernays made bacon a popular breakfast food by paying a doctor to write a study promoting the healthy benefits of eating a hearty breakfast. Bacon of course was then portrayed as a hearty breakfast item. 

Add Some Social Media

It was one thing for companies to start using psychology to advertise, but when those advertisements are all around us because of social media, it is hard to not be influenced by their propaganda. Images of beautiful, flawless women entice us to buy a product so we can "look just like them." Some companies and political leaders use one of the "most terrifying weapon[s]" combined with a force that reaches all parts of the world to influence how we use our time, money, and freedoms. 

Based on how much advertisements I see on social media, I have assumed that companies have shifted from traditional print propaganda to more digital. But that was only an educated guess. I decided to test my hypothesis and ask someone in the business. I spoke to Erica, an advertising intern, to get an insider view of how much focus a given company has on using social media to advertise. Erica said that her agency still does a lot of traditional advertising (i.e., print, TV and radio commercials). "But that only supplements what happens on social and digital platforms," remarked Erica. "That's where we teach most people." She then added that currently about half of their focus is through social and digital platforms. This agency is making the shift to more digital advertising. That is where the power associated with propaganda seems to be most influential and far reaching. 

Stand up for You

While many companies really do provide quality products, there are some companies that have a two-faced message. They appear to be promoting products to improve quality of life, but are also sending subliminal messages promoting unethical social norms or behaviors. Are you going to give into the power of companies and government to tell you what is ethical? Or are you going to fight back with your own weapon? You can use social media to make your own propaganda. 

What are you saying about these companies and government on your social media platforms? They are listening. I have a friend who interned with the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, a non-profit company who is working to expose companies that claim to promote an ethical society, but go behind the scenes and own pornography websites. This company is working to defend dignity by leading a movement, educating the public, and changing policies that exploit. They are using propaganda to expose "the seamless connection between all forms of sexual exploitation." They are raising their voices for a more ethical society.

You can make propaganda. You can make a movement too. When you say tweet or post
something, it spreads to your friends and they will be influenced by what you say. Use your leverage well, and you might be able to make some big changes.

You have more of a say than you think. More power, more influence than you think. Don't let big powers tell you what to think, buy, or stand for. Stand up for what you think is ethical.

Work Cited

"Women of Britain say "GO!"" British Library Montgomery Flagg,

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