Black Propaganda

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Microphones-2-.jpg This article is part of the Propaganda Portal project of Spinwatch.

Black Propaganda is a form of information that is spread by one source, and is produced to look as if it has come from another source. The whole idea behind Black propaganda is that it is convincing enough to be accepted as something other than what it really is[1]. Black propaganda differs from White Propaganda, where the source of the information is clear, and Grey Propaganda, where the source of the information is not identifiable. Its defining feature is that it intends to subvert and deceive its audience in regard to its origins. The moment that Black Propaganda is recognised to be fake, it ceases to be effective as Black Propaganda. Being defined by its subversive nature, the information given in Black Propaganda does not necessarily have to be fabricated, it can be true or false [2].

It has been argued that the best wartime Black Propaganda was often based on truth. The truth it told may have only been partial, but it could still relate to a disturbing fact that the audience’s Government would rather they did not know [3]. Black Propaganda was utilised heavily during both the First World War [4] and the Second World War, with the purpose of disrupting the enemy side’s will to carry on fighting [5].

It is argued that this kind of Propaganda is notoriously hard to create convincingly, requiring a great knowledge and cultural understanding of the source which it is mimicking. When creating material in another language, for example, a single grammatical error or unusual use of language can reveal that the author is not a native speaker, and cast the Black Propaganda into doubt [1].

First World War Case Studies

The War Propaganda Bureau

David Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister established the War Propaganda Bureau as a means of promoting Britain’s interests and viewpoints during the war. Famous writers, such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy and H. G. Wells, agreed to secretly author publications that would then go on to be distributed under the guise of a commercial printing company. One such piece was the Report on Alleged German Outrages, created to back up the idea that German soldiers systematically tortured Belgian civilians [4].

Second World War Case Studies

The Political Warfare Executive

An organisation called the Political Warfare Executive was set up by the British Government, with the sole aim of producing Black Propaganda to demoralise Axis troops and citizens. Throughout the 1940s, this organisation created postcards which would be airdropped or mailed directly to German citizens. These postcards were created to mimic misdirected German communications, and detailed demoralising reports, like how German officers were frequently enjoying lavish banquets whilst the rest of the population starved under rationing [2].

Counterfeit Ration Cards

Allied printed black propaganda efforts even extended to the forgery of German food ration cards, delivered by the millions into Germany through RAF air drops. The intention was that German civilians could easily acquire additional food rations, stressing domestic food supplies and rationing capabilities in Germany [1].

Black Broadcasting

As part of Britain’s Black Broadcasting efforts, numerous covert radio stations were broadcasting on medium or short wavelengths across Axis-occupied Europe. One of these stations, Soldatensender Calais, reportedly had a larger audience than official German radio stations, and was considered an accurate news source. Radio stations like Soldatensender Calais reported both real German news and fabricated propaganda. Describing the content of such black broadcasters, Sefton Delmer, the head of black operations, says that their motto was “cover, dirt, cover, cover, dirt, cover, dirt” [1].



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Dedman College of Humanities & Sciences, Black Propaganda, Dedman College of Humanities & Social Sciences Department of Physics website, accessed 11 march 2015
  2. 2.0 2.1 Debra Kelly, The Difference Between Gray, White And Black Propaganda, KnowledgeNuts website, 12 February 2014, accessed 11 March 2015
  3. Lee Richards (2010), ‘‘The Black Art: British Clandestine Psychological Warfare against the Third Reich’’, Psywar: Peacehaven
  4. 4.0 4.1 John Simkin, Black Propaganda, Spartacus Educational website, September 1997 (updated August 2014), accessed 11 March 2015
  5. National Library of Scotland, Second World War black propaganda, National Library of Scotland website, accessed 11 March 2015