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

Propaganda is neutrally defined as a systematic form of purposeful persuasion that attempts to influence the emotions, attitudes, opinions, and actions of specified target audiences for ideological, political or commercial purposes through the controlled transmission of one-sided messages (which may or may not be factual) via mass and direct media channels[1]. Simply put, Propaganda can be considered the deliberate use of any form of communication designed to influence the minds, emotions, and actions of a given group for a specific purpose[2].

The word 'Propaganda' has strongly negative connotations; people avoid using it to describe their actions because it is often associated with Deception and Disinformation[3]. Although manipulative, Propaganda is not necessarily untruthful. Many theorists believe that the most effective Propaganda operates from a basis of truth[4].

Critics of Propaganda have argued that terms such as Perception Management, Psychological Warfare, Psychological Operations, Public Diplomacy, Public Affairs, Public Relations and Spin are all just 'nice' ways of saying Propaganda, as they all involve a conscious manipulation of their audiences on behalf of their sponsors[5].

The advent of 20th century mass communication has enabled Propaganda to flourish, and it has been employed with increasing sophistication in all major conflicts since the beginning of World War I. Unlike other forms of warfare, the success or failure of Propaganda cannot be immediately known or measured. It is a continuous process that persuades without seeming to do so[6].

Classifying Propaganda


Propaganda is often classified into three separate genres - 'White', 'Grey' or 'Black' - depending on the degree of transparency with which it attributes its true authors. White Propaganda is correctly attributed to the sponsor and the source is truthfully identified. Grey Propaganda, on the other hand, is unattributed to the sponsor and conceals the real source of the Propaganda. The objective of Grey Propaganda is to advance viewpoints that are in the interest of the originator but that would be more acceptable to target audiences than official statements. Black Propaganda also camouflages the sponsor's participation. But while Grey Propaganda is unattributed, Black Propaganda is falsely attributed. Black Propaganda is subversive and provocative; it is usually designed to appear to have originated from a hostile source, in order to cause that source embarrassment, to damage its prestige, to undermine its credibility, or to get it to take actions that it might not otherwise[4].


Propaganda can also be classified as either 'Fast' or 'Slow' based on the type of media employed and the immediacy of the effect desired. Fast media are designed to exert a short-term impact on public opinion, while the use of slow media cultivates public opinion over the long haul. Fast media typically include radio, newspapers, speeches, television, film, e-mail and the Internet. These forms of communication are able to exert an almost instantaneous effect on target audiences. Books, cultural exhibitions, and educational exchanges and activities, on the other hand, are slow media that seek to foster ideas and attitudes over time[4].



  1. Richard Nelson (1996), A Chronology and Glossary of Propaganda in the United States, pp.232–233
  2. Paul Linebarger (1954), Psychological Warfare, Combat Forces Press: Washington, DC. p.39.
  3. William Levinson (1999), An Introduction to Propaganda, Stentorian website, accessed 02 April 2015
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Kenneth Osgood (2002), Propaganda, Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy, accessed 02 April 2015
  5. John Brown (2008), Public Diplomacy & Propaganda: Their Differences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill website, September 2008, accessed 02 April 2015
  6. Caryn Neumann, Propaganda, Uses and Psychology, FAQS website, accessed 02 April 2015