informational propaganda

“Propaganda is not a moment in the history of communication, rather it is an element in the structure of communication," notes public diplomacy's lead historian.

September 24, 2015

"Who is Xi Dada?" was created by the People's Daily, often described as a "mouthpiece" of the Communist Party. The video itself is a list of compliments from doe-eyed foreign students who appear to be studying in Beijing. President Xi is described by the students as "a wise and resolute president", "super charismatic" and "not only a businessman, but also a family man".

Former US public diplomacy officials fear the sophisticated, social media borne propaganda of the Islamic State militant group (Isis) is outmatching American efforts at countering it.  Aimed less at Isis itself than at potential supporters, a bevy of US diplomatic and communications initiatives seek to undermine Isis’s portrayal of itself as an authentic, successful Islamic resistance.

Moving to end the Islamic State’s reign of terror in the Middle East, several nations are weighing hard-power, military options as well as soft-power propaganda tactics to dismantle the extremist army, discredit its ideology and discourage foreign recruits from its influence.

Today we take for granted that information warfare — whether the disruption of other nations’ computer systems, the monitoring of citizens’ telephone calls to detect terrorist threats or the use of social media to shape foreign attitudes — is a key tool of national security. But virtually all our concerns about such tactics find their roots in the Great War, particularly in its first hours, when the Alert’s hatchet-wielding crew began its work.

Over the last six months, the Russian propaganda machine has pursued a two-pronged strategy toward its domestic audience.  Russia’s propaganda effort also has a global dimension.  How should the US government respond?

Nowadays, propagandists fight an unorthodox war: no bloodshed, no artillery and surely no soldiers. The media is the weapon, journalists are the soldiers, the target is the viewer’s mind and the bullets are news bulletins and entertainment programs. The mass media have becomethe platforms through which twenty-first century wars are fought. Countries no longer colonize by means of the gun. Now they colonize by means of the satellite disk.

Last week I joined several hundred other scholars at the 2014 International Studies Association convention. As expected, opinions on events in Ukraine abound. I was struck by the multiplicity of versions of the same events. More interesting still was how readily scholars were to label different versions as “propaganda.”