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About This Site

Overview

Created almost 25 years ago, when the web was in its infancy, Propaganda Critic is dedicated to promoting techniques of propaganda analysis among critically minded citizens.

In 2018, realizing that traditional approaches to propaganda analysis were not well-suited for making sense out of our contemporary political crisis, we completely overhauled Propaganda Critic to take into account the rise of ‘computational propaganda.’ In addition to updating all of the original content, we added nearly two dozen new articles exploring the rise of computational propaganda, explaining recent research on cognitive biases that influence how we interpret and retain information, and presenting recent case studies of how propaganda techniques have been used to disrupt democracy around the world.

The name “propaganda critic” should not be interpreted as suggesting that there is only room for one propaganda critic. In a functioning democracy, all thinking citizens are entitled to consider themselves critics of propaganda.

Although the authors hold clearly defined political views, the site is intended to be as objective as possible, holding all sides of the spectrum up to equal scrutiny. If you know of persuasion techniques or propaganda examples worthy of inclusion, please share your thoughts via our contact form. Similarly, if you feel that any examples or arguments in this site are too one-sided, we hope you will let us know why you feel this way.

Educators are encouraged to use this site as they see fit. Formal permission for reprints, screenshots, and hyperlinks is not required, but a short e-mail message detailing the context of use is always appreciated.

Inspiration

This site is inspired by the pioneering work of the Institute for Propaganda Analysis (IPA). From 1937 to 1942, the IPA was dedicated to promoting the techniques of propaganda analysis among critically-minded citizens. Composed of journalists, social scientists and educators, the IPA published a series of books, including:

  • The Fine Art of Propaganda
  • Propaganda Analysis
  • Group Leader’s Guide to Propaganda Analysis
  • Propaganda: How To Recognize and Deal With It

The IPA is best-known for identifying the seven basic propaganda devices: Name-Calling, Glittering Generality, Transfer, Testimonial, Plain Folks, Card Stacking, and Band Wagon. According to political communication researchers Jim Combs and Dan Nimmo, “these seven devices have been repeated so frequently in lectures, articles, and textbooks ever since that they have become virtually synonymous with the practice and analysis of propaganda in all of its aspects.” 1

Some argue that the IPA’s original approach is too simplistic because many messages fall into more than one category. Others have argued that revolutionary transformation of our global media landscape require new ways of identifying and criticizing propaganda.

There is some validity to these criticisms, but few could quibble with the IPA’s basic goal of promoting critical thought among citizens. In The Fine Art of Propaganda, the IPA explained that:

“It is essential in a democratic society that young people and adults learn how to think, learn how to make up their minds. They must learn how to think independently, and they must learn how to think together. They must come to conclusions, but at the same time they must recognize the right of other men to come to opposite conclusions. So far as individuals are concerned, the art of democracy is the art of thinking and discussing independently together.” 2

Project Team

Aaron Delwiche holds a Ph.D. in communication from the University of Washington and a B.A. in political science from the University of California at Berkeley. A professor in the Department of Communication at Trinity University, he teaches courses on hacking subcultures, propaganda, and videogame design and criticism. His research covers topics such as transmedia storytelling, persuasive games, and the rise of participatory culture.

Mary Margaret Herring is a philosophy and communication major at Trinity University, and she expects to graduate in May 2020. Her essay titled “Rationality, Desire, and the Good Life,” won second place in the Hemlock Competition sponsored by the Trinity University Department of Philosophy. Fascinated with dystopian visions and extremist politics, she values the role of authentic deliberation in sustaining the public sphere. In 2018, Mary Margaret earned a summer research grant from the Mellon Initiative.

Carol Lay has created comics and illustrations for many publications including Bongo Comics (The Simpsons), The Wall Street Journal, and The New Yorker. Her weekly comic strip, Lay Lines, can be seen on GoComics, and you can learn more about herwork by visiting her personal site or checking out her Patreon page.

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to Trinity University and The Mellon Undergraduate Research Foundation for helping to make this project a reality. Chad Spigel, Fred Loxsom, Jennifer Henderson, and David Ribble also deserve special thanks.

Last but not least, we are in awe of Carol Lay’s boundless creativity and considerable artistic talent.

References

1 Combs, J., & Nimmo, D. (1993). The new propaganda: The dictatorship of palaver in contemporary politics. New York: Longman. Page 193.

2 Lee, A. M. C. & Lee, E. B. (1939) The fine art of propaganda: A study of Father Coughlin’s speeches. Harcourt, Brace, New York. Page viii.


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