Counter-Propaganda is the practice of taking measures to portray an opposing piece of Propaganda as false, instructing the target audience to think or act in a manner that counters the original Propaganda. To be effective, Counter-Propaganda must target the same audience as the original Propaganda message and may often employ the same methods. Counter-Propaganda is different to Propaganda in that it is a completely reactionary concept. Because it intends to counter previously stated Propaganda messages, Counter-Propaganda initiatives cannot be employed preemptively.
Counter-Propaganda is still, however, based on the same principles as Propaganda, and consists of deliberate, systematic attempts to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.
It has also been noted that a key feature of Counter-Propaganda is to undermine the credibility of the original Propagandists themselves, portraying their arguments as inherently false and a product of Disinformation, so that audiences will be more likely to discredit their efforts in the future.
Elements of Counter-Propaganda
A Basis in Truth
Whilst both Counter-Propaganda and regular Propaganda can contain true or false information, it has been argued that the most successful Counter-Propaganda campaigns generally only broadcast the truth. Counter-Propaganda is commonly understood to be the "truthful, honest opposition" to an adversary's Propaganda initiatives, for both moral and practical reasons.
In practice a Counter-Propaganda message that is deliberately or accidentally false could be revealed to be as biased as the Propaganda it sought to oppose. If a Counter-Propaganda message is publicly discovered to be Misinformation or Disinformation, this could also harm the broadcaster's reputation and reduce their ability to effectively produce Counter-Propaganda in the future. Thus, telling the truth (or a version of it) strengthens the effectiveness of a Counter-Propaganda campaign and weakens the Propaganda of those revealed to be biased.
Clarity of Expression
Counter-Propaganda campaigns must relay information in a universally comprehensible manor in order to effectively communicate with the target audience and counter rival Propaganda initiatives. Using widely recognisable words and concepts to clearly convey the Counter-Propaganda message is more likely to lead to an effective outcome. If the Counter-Propaganda is confusing and the message is misunderstood by the target audience, a further clarification will only serve to reduce its effectiveness.
Knowledge of Target Audience
Like regular Propaganda, Counter-Propaganda requires the creation of messages that resonate with the target audience in a culturally relevant narrative. Developing messages that are effective in a target audience entails identifying the existing sentiments, stereotypes and opinions that influence the audience's perspectives, beliefs and actions. Since the objective of Counter-Propaganda is to influence an audience to reject a Propaganda message, it must touch upon the elements of culture, belief and emotion that will result in such action. These elements will vary among audiences, meaning that the messages must be tailored specifically to the individual target audience.
Counter-Propaganda is a reactive method that must be employed rapidly in order to effectively contradict a Propaganda message. The longer that Propaganda is perceived as the truth the harder it is to contradict, even when the target audience is exposed to the truth.
Psychology provides additional reasons to rapidly employ Counter-Propaganda. If a target audience has based their beliefs or actions upon an original Propaganda message they were exposed to over a long period of time it becomes increasingly hard to alter their viewpoint. The audience in such a scenario might be hesitant to assimilate any new information from a Counter-Propaganda message that contradicted the information they had already internalised.
- Wikipedia, Counter Propaganda: Overview of Counter-Propaganda
- WC Garrison (1999), Information Operations and Counter-Propaganda: Making a Weapon of Public Affairs: US report on Counter-Propaganda initiatives
- Jacques Ellul, "Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes", New York, NY: Vintage Books, pp.33-36.
- Garth Jowett and Victoria O'Donnell, "Propaganda and Persuasion", 4th ed. Sage Publications, p.7.
- Herbert Romerstein (2008), "Counterpropaganda: We Can't Do Without It". In Waller, ed., Strategic Influence: Public Diplomacy, Counterpropaganda and Political Warfare, IWP Press, p.135.
- Paul Smith (1989), "On Political War". Washington, DC: National Defense University Press, p.7.
- WC Garrison (1999), Information Operations and Counter-Propaganda: Making a Weapon of Public Affairs, Strategy Research Project, U.S. Army War College, p.5. Defense Technical Information Center website, accessed 26 March 2015
- Andrew Garfield (2008), "Recovering the Lost Art of Counterpropaganda: An Assessment of the War of Ideas in Iraq". In Waller, ed., Strategic Influence: Public Diplomacy, Counterpropaganda and Political Warfare, IWP Press, pp.184-185.
- Oliver Carlson 1953, "Handbook on Propaganda: For The Alert Citizen", Studies of the Foundation for Social Research, 2 (1), Winter
- Scott Plous (1993), The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making, McGraw Hill, p.233.