Readers, Writers, Texts

Persuasion or Propaganda?

The line between persuasion and propaganda is thin and easily crossed. Propaganda is the conscious effort of a language producer to shape public opinion towards a certain ideological position. You will probably be familiar with propaganda from the first and second world wars which persuaded people to fight fascism. However, propaganda can be used for all kinds of purposes: from the promotion of certain industries, to championing capitalism, to selling consumer products. 

Propaganda can be dangerous when it is used on an uninformed public: people are easily persuaded because they do not have counter-arguments to the information they are being given. You may think you are immune to propaganda – but living in a digital age does not always make it easier to detect the techniques involved. It requires a conscious effort to be critical, work on your media literacy and stay aware of argumentative fallacies. 

Propaganda is often associated with war, as during times of war countries and states crank up their output of propaganda, appealing to the patriotism of ordinary people in ensuring their support for costly war efforts and necessary human sacrifice. You can explore a huge range of war propaganda issues (including techniques such as exaggeration, distortion, subjectivity and fabrication) by visiting this site:

What many students (and people in day-to-day society) find harder to appreciate is that propaganda can be spread more covertly using a range of insidious techniques. Read a selection of the following articles (in particular don’t miss The Language of Propaganda and Persuasion) to find out more about this covert use of propaganda in persuasive texts:

Class Activity

Look at these seven wartime propaganda posters. Can you match each famous propaganda technique with the poster that best demonstrates it?

Learner Portfolio

Do you think use of propaganda is only confined to wartime, or do you recognise any of these techniques in normal life? Do you think, for example, that propaganda and advertising overlap? In this context, why is it important and useful to study propaganda? Write your thoughts in a one-two page journal entry.


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