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?
Yes! Great post.
I think we need to think before we share… and then we need to think again. Is it relevant? Is it necessary? Is it truthful? Is it correct? (I could go on and on….)
Too often things are misused and misquoted, or taken completely out of context.
Well said, Carolyn!
Susan Gourley says
Things get shared and retweeted seemingly without thought. Some people seem to believe everything they read on social media without checking it out. Network news on TV seems little better. They all push their own political spins on everything.
I’m trying to be very careful what I share these days on social media, that’s for sure. We may be past the time when writers should keep a low profile. Maybe we have a job to do here.
Alex J. Cavanaugh says
What Lee said – sometimes it’s relative. Sometimes truth doesn’t equate to facts.
But jumping on every half-truth that comes out – dumb!
Hi Alex. A good discussion of relativity when it comes to truth (and here I think a better word is “belief”) would lead us right back into rigid ideology — one man’s truth is clearly another man’s lie whether it pertains to politics, religion, or how to raise children.
I would tend to substitute the word “belief” for “truth” in this context because to me, the truth is based on fact and belief is based on our culture, our upbringing, and our environment. Referring back to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, “Truth” is defined as “the state of being the case: fact” with other variations, including “the body or real things, events, and facts: actuality.”
Absolutely. I admit I am not that great at the validating, though most of what I share is from the source, like the Humane Society or The Onion. Which it’s The Onion, so if you believe it, that’s on you. Right? Great post and a new year’s resolution for sure.
I know The Onion is satire, but apparently a lot of people don’t. Recently I saw another share that was from a satire site I’d never heard of before and from the comments, I’d say quite a few people were sucked right in. One thing we cannot depend on is an informed audience. Does that mean we need to qualify a “share” with a disclaimer such as “this is satire, folks!” I don’t know the answer to that, Julie, but I’d lean toward full disclosure.
Now, of course, when it comes to the Humane Society, I would share with abandon. What can go wrong when we’re talking about critters that need to be adopted?
Arlee Bird says
Your post is like an explanatory extension of my most recent post. In the end I think “truth” is often relative and may contain many points from differing sides. Getting to the real truth of the matter is often a major quest that at times is never achieved while at other times is like a slap on the back of the head.
Tossing It Out
Hi Lee. Yes, indeed, truth is often relative, but not when it concerns a direct quote from a speech or the citing of statistics. These are the things we need to get right.