- You can defend yourself against the propaganda onslaught but to do so is hard work.
- We tend to let others tell us what to believe, and we believe them!
- We are at our most susceptible when we are busy and tired – say in the evening while reading Facebook. That makes it easy to become a target of propaganda, and worse, we mindlessly share what we were just told to believe, with all our friends!
“The media has the ability to exploit persuasive tactics …: the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person. Indeed, as we have shown, this does not have to be the “in your face,” World War II propaganda. Instead, the presentation is subtle and unaware to the untrained eye, so that even slight difference in the presentation can help change contextual understanding.
… the truly only way to defend against it is to be more aware of the tactics being used.
Phil Zimbardo, an expert in mind control tactics, outlines in a paper twenty ways to resist unwanted social influence. We have listed three ways that are most relevant to defending against propaganda:
- Be aware of the general perspective that others use to frame the problem or issue at hand, because accepting their frame on their terms gives them a powerful advantage. …
- Be sensitive to situational demands however trivial they may seem: group norms, group pressures, symbols of authority, slogans, and commitments. Don’t believe in simple solutions to complex personal, social, and political problems. As with the media coverage of Pakistan and France, it is usually much easier for the reader to let an article tell him what to believe, instead of using the article as merely a suggestion of what may be believed. Especially as the tactics grow more and more refined, more and more subtle, and more and more persuasive, we find that the minute we stop observing with a critical eye, we have already been persuaded. It is so often that we find ourselves overwhelmed by work that needs to be done. It is so often that we do not have time to sort through the information presented to us so that we may derive our own solution. And sadly, it is so often that we let ourselves fall prey to propaganda for we have grown too weary to defend ourselves.
- In the end, it must be remembered that it is not enough to dissent vocally — one must be willing to disobey, to defy, to challenge, and to suffer any ensuing consequences of these actions (Zimbardo 47). …”
Shortly after posting this, I managed to “share” two items on Facebook that were not true or were no longer true. I know better. In each case, it was very late at night (after 11 pm), after 11 hour days of work and volunteer engineering. I was tired and had lost my skeptical and critical thinking capacity. Many people use social media platforms after a long day’s work, precisely when they are the most likely to fall for a fake meme.
Update: I later adopted a personal policy on sharing: I no longer share anything on Facebook unless I personally created it, or it was created by someone that I know personally. This prevents me from accidentally becoming a cog in the spread of fake news and viral nonsense on Facebook.