Propaganda can have the full weight and power of the state behind it. This is still happening in some areas of the world. But more commonly, it's a public relations challenge that can be combated on a smaller scale. It can rear its ugly head during a political campaign, a corporate battle or even when a non-profit is trying to generate awareness of an issue in the face of a government trying to cover up the evidence.
It's hard to fight fire with fire, especially when you can't use the same evil manipulations and lies that the other side is employing. You might feel like David in a fight against Goliath because propaganda is a tool of those in power and on top. But remember – David won that fight. Here are some techniques and tips that might help if you're defending yourself or your company against a propaganda campaign.
Use Leaks to Undermine Propaganda
The greatest strength of a propaganda campaign is also its greatest weakness. An organized and well-funded campaign involves a lot of people communicating with each other, holding meetings, writing documents, making plans and sending e-mails. It's harder and harder to keep a secret these days, particularly among large groups of people. A single leaked e-mail can expose a propaganda effort as a fraud and a lie.
Some experts predict that this problem is impossible to solve and that the Wikileaks scandals mean the age of big, top-down organizations is over – only smaller, self-contained teams will be able to control sensitive information and not get leaked to death.
If you're in a fight against propaganda, getting this sort of evidence from the inside is crucial to undermining the motives and credibility of the other side. It will help level the field. Of course, it may be easier said than done, but it can be explosive if you're successful.
Don't try to fight imagery with imagery, or slogans with slogans – if you're the underdog, you'll surely be outgunned, and they're fighting dirty while you're fighting fair. You'll lose that kind of battle. Use rhetorical jujitsu instead.
Take all the time, money and effort they're spending on images, slogans and messages and use it against the propagandist by subverting those efforts. Undermine them. Turn them against him and twist them to your own goals. You'll see this being done as clever graffiti artists deface posters to reverse the intended message.
Create Your Own Ways to Communicate
The last tactic is to establish your own channels of communication, especially if the other side dominates or controls the mainstream media. Social media, blogs, and e-mail can let you communicate directly to the people and the press, and that's vital in a fight against propaganda. Flood the Internet at every opportunity. Get your own message out there. You'll get people talking if you can accomplish this in a witty or clever way that they'll remember. And as anyone involved in marketing knows, word of mouth is good.