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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Newer Propaganda Techniques 

Many of the propaganda techniques we've discussed were identified in the 1930’s, and have been changing and developing since. More were developed and studied, especially during the Vietnam War era. And some techniques are relatively new. One of these is called “Astroturfing.”

According to Wikipedia, Astroturfing refers to “political, advertising or public relations campaigns that are designed to mask the sponsors of the message to give the appearance of coming from a disinterested, grassroots participant.”

The “Big Lie” is an older technique that was popular during early WWII days, with Hitler famous (or infamous) for its use. The phrase was used in a report prepared during the war by the United States Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in describing Hitler's psychological profile:

His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.

Let's build an imaginary campaign

Let’s use these techniques to develop a propaganda campaign for Costa Mesa to learn more about how they are used.

For this exercise we'll pretend to be a wealthy, eccentric male who hates cats and doesn't want them anywhere near his home. We know that there are a lot of cat lovers in Costa Mesa, so a direct campaign isn't likely to be useful. So, to start, we'll open two groups in the City, first a “Birds deserve to live, too” group (BD2L2), and second, an "Institute for Stopping Coyote Attacks Now” (I4SCAN). 

BD2L2 into the fray

Group one, the BD2L2 group will petition the City Council for an ordinance to require all cats to wear bells when outside – with significant fines for owners who fail to comply. This will be financed by a “bell fee.” The group will send out mailers “educating” Costa Mesa citizens about the “very reasonable” requirement to have cats send a warning to keep birds safe. It’ll paint those who object as “cruel and hateful to birds.”

I4SCAN gets going

In the meantime, the other group, I4SCAN, will apply for grants to study the “increasing dangers of coyote attacks in Costa Mesa.” In order to bring this grant money into the city, we'll have to collect a little data, though; we want to know how many cats turn up missing each week, so we'll petition the City Council for an ordinance to require cat owners to file weekly reports on the status of their cats. In order to pay for the processing the Council will be encouraged to charge a fee for licensing and collecting data on each cat.

Imply something terrible to make 'em comply

I4SCAN will send out mailers with headlines like, “Are Coyotes going to be Costa Mesa’s ‘JAWS?’” and “How Many Coyote Attacks on Children Will it Take?” Both groups can use the same bulk mailing permit, printer, and secretary.

Few "real" people needed

In fact, all we, as the cat-hating guy, need for this operation is a couple of people. They each will assume differing personas, depending on which group they are blogging and commenting to support. To help them remember who they are at the moment they’ll keep separate avatars for each identity. (In the real world, commercial astroturfers use up to around 70 different personas and have been found to be generally effective if they aren't exposed too soon.)

Repeat said the Master Propagandist

We'll keep repeating our slogans over and over, and by having the slogans appear simultaneously in separate publication we’ll imply a deluge of public opinion. In time, cat owners will be so overburdened with fees, fines, and rules, that many will change pet species and get rid of their cats.

And some of those who persist will lose their easily-found cats to predators.

We win and it's cheap

Voila, an effective blow for cat-haters everywhere, and it only needed one full-time and two part-time propagandists. And, no Costa Mesa citizen knew what the real goal was, nor who promoted it. The project was “Astroturfed” and supported by the Big Lie implying terrific danger to children from coyote attack.

But don't you dare question us

A critical thinker might have questioned the different groups using the same printer and mailing permit, or might wonder where the coyote attack danger was documented. If that person were too nosy, or too outspoken before we reached our goal, we'd just crush her with insults, labels, and criticisms of her hair style. If she didn’t get distracted, well, maybe keying her car or tossing a brick through her window would convince her to shut up.

Blaming the wrong people

And the good part is folks will be pointing fingers and leveling accusations at cat owners, coyote haters, and bird lovers--not at us. And we'll sit back and giggle as we get what we want.

These techniques are being used right now in Costa Mesa, but not about cats. Astroturfing is healthy, vigorous, and in frequent use in Costa Mesa during this election. And so is the Big Lie technique.

Watch for them as you use critical thinking to decide whom and what to support with your vote.

Cast your vote based on facts and logic

Costa Mesa needs votes based upon fact and logic, not upon slogans and unwarranted fears..

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