These days, we’re assaulted by propaganda on social media, television, in books, newspapers, even everyday conversations. It’s getting worse, and it’s getting more dangerous.
There’s no rule, you know, that the content of propaganda be true. As a matter of fact, the bigger the lie, the more effective when aimed at an audience of naive, uninformed idealogues.
Quotes taken out of context. Words or statistics misinterpreted or misstated. Cute little memes to enhance the presentation of a flat-out lie.
My Merriam-Webster’s College Dictionary (11th edition) defines the relevant meaning of propaganda this way:
2) the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person
3) ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause; also a public action having such an effect
See, there’s nothing in there about truth or lies.
One can find some very interesting thoughts about propaganda from Hitler’s point of view in Mein Kampf (1933), especially related to the most suggestible audiences and how to reach them. Anyone who falls for some of the nonsense posted on Facebook and jumps on board every hysterical and ignorant posting should stop and think about this, maybe even investigate how the great villains in history lured their followers to champion their causes.
Instead of quoting Hitler, however, I went to Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and looked up Mark Twain:
“It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.”
“Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she had laid an asteroid.”
“One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives.”
So the way I see it, writers should be the truth tellers. Writers should examine propaganda and reveal the mistakes and the lies. Writers should keep an open mind and not get sucked into ideological traps. Writers should not leave fact finding to the media who seem to be extremely vulnerable to ideological influences.
A writer on social media has a responsibility to validate the information “shared” and “liked” and “retweeted.” Writers have the responsibility to tell the truth.
If we don’t do that, what good are we?