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Propaganda & Persuasion Techniques
A Guide to Identifying Manipulative Information

by Virginia Stewart, M.Ed.

Definition

  • The deliberate attempt to influence mass attitudes on controversial subjects by the use of symbols rather than force.

  • A systematic effort to persuade a body of people to support or adopt a particular product, opinion, attitude, or course of action.

Types

Word/Sound Bytes

    slogans - catchwords and phrases associated with particular groups.
    " The only good __________, is a dead __________."

    euphemisms- inoffensive, evasive term for harsh reality.
    "economic setback" (unemployment and starvation)

Appeals to the emotions

    pity
    "This unborn child is helpless"

    fear
    "Unless you join our church, you will go to hell."

    force
    "Do drugs, lose your job."

    flattery/insincere praise
    "The master race..."

    name calling/attacking the origin. The attempt to discredit an idea by attacking the person.
    "you're just one of those bleeding hearts"

    loaded words - highly charged, emotional words, either sexist or racist language.
    "__________ was screeching and wailing about the economy today."

    bandwagon effect
    "Everyone is doing it..."

logical fallacies - error in reasoning

    false analogies. Comparing two things that are only superficially related and/or trying to establish a cause and effect relationship between two things that are not related.
    "Buy this toothpaste and women will like you."
    "A nation that can put a man on the moon can eliminate poverty."

    overgeneralization/sweeping generalizations. A conclusion based on too little evidence, or biased evidence.
    "Pre-historic peoples loved one another and believed that women are superior."

    stereotyping. Overgeneralization about groups of people.
    "All computer users are geeks."
    "All lesbians act like men."

    unstated assumptions. An assumption is something that we believe without any proof. An argument based on an unstated assumption demonstrates a lack of reasoning ability.
    "The Bible is the literal word of god. Since they are retired, they won't be able to participate in the walk-a-thon. (older people are physically impaired)"

    false association. By agreeing or disagreeing with an argument, you will become associated with other people doing the same.
    "All democrats voted pro-choice, since you are pro-choice, you should be a democrat."

    faulty cause and effect, also known as superstition.
    "It rained today because I washed my car this morning."

    either-or thinking - inability to recognize categories outside of your reality tunnel.
    "You are either a Christian or a Satanist."

    non-sequiturs. Does not follow, the "huh, where did that come from?" effect.
    "Many wild animals prosper in zoos, therefore, people should buy more goldfish."

    circular reasoning. Restating an argument as a conclusion.
    "She is popular because everyone likes her."

Other Frequently Used Types

    ambiguity - double meaning.
    "I can assure you that steps are being taken to control the problem."

    big lie - myth.
    "We all know that god created the earth..."

    doublespeak - using slippery, dishonest words to distract someone from real issues and problems. Read 1984 by George Orwell.

    endorsement.
    "I'm Alicia BigStar, and I use snazzy toothpaste."

    gobbledygook - Words that don't say what they really mean.
    "summit meeting, here are your top 5 priorities"

    half-truths - mixture of fact and assumption.
    "Lidia likes boys "(true), "therefore, she is a slut. "(false).
    "Pro-choice supporters believe in abortion" (half-truth),"therefore they are murderers" (false)."

    inference.
    "98% of banks are owned by those people. Did you know that most banks were found in default last year because of embezzlement?"

    jargon - specialized terms within a particular field that can be used to obscure or confuse meaning if you don't know them.
    "We can put a spin on the sound byte and download it to the web in C++."

    judgment.
    "That is evil."

    quotations out of context. Most statements beginning with,
    "The Bible says..."

    pseudo-science.
    "9 out of 10 doctors agree..."

    red-herring - blaming or creating a problem that did not exist in order to conceal the real problem.
    "The Red Scare, The Cold War, Ritual Abuse, The War on Drugs."

    weasel words/claims - slippery word with no substance.
    "We have solid information, and will access the probabilities of reaching an agreement in the future."



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