POLITICAL PROPAGANDA AND ITS INTERFERENCE IN OUR AMERICAN DEMOCRATIC PROCESSES
Websters: Definition of propaganda (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/propagandaWebsters)
- capitalized : a congregation of the Roman curia having jurisdiction over missionary territories and related institutions
- the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person
- ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause also: a public action having such an effect
We’re inundated with TV ads, flyers stuck in our doors or mailed to our homes, phone calls and emails, urging us to vote for one candidate or another. Unfortunately, this flood of political advertising does influence our opinions and vote.
Our brain is designed to filter frequently heard information into portions of our brain for future reference. Think about what you’ve learned in life. In your early years you learned that “the stove is hot!” and “Look both ways before you cross!” These are “filters.” Filters are not necessarily bad. They allow us to survive in a complex world; they protect us and give us direction, but they also make us vulnerable to manipulation.
When we hear something multiple times, day after day, week after week, the message becomes imprinted in our brain. When the subject comes up at a later time, such as election day, our brains search for the familiar and we vote accordingly.
The other day I was shown a campaign attack ad against a candidate for a national office. The flyer claimed this candidate had not paid any personal or company taxes for years. It was a slick piece, easily read and eye catching, and clearly implying that the candidate was avoiding their tax responsibilities. It addressed some of my biases…filtered opinions stored in my brain, but where did the ad come from, and was it true?
Under law, all campaign materials must have information regarding the source of the material. This piece had a website listed. The site automatically directed me to the opponent of the candidate attacked by the flyer.
This surprised me at first because the topic of “tax evasion” is often raised by other political parties. Then I realized the propaganda piece had two targets: 1. the opponent, and 2. The opposition political parties. What a bargain – two shots with one bullet!
But I still didn’t know if the information in the flyer was true, so I ran some internet searches which showed the claim was true years ago, but I didn’t get any indication there was wrong doing involved. However, the search turned up other information which influenced my assessment of the candidates, so it was worth the effort.
With over 70 years under my belt, my brain has lots of biases stored up. I’m embarrassed by some and try to avoid acting upon them, others have served me well. This flyer drove home how careful we need to be in today’s world of mass communications. Our American Democracy is vulnerable to targeted and manipulated propaganda. Particularly during the elections of our government representatives.
What can we do to protect ourselves, our communities and our democracy?
- We can carefully evaluate what we hear and read.
- If a statement makes us mad, or fearful, pause and look to more than one source to analyze the accuracy of claims and assertions.
- We can avoid jumping to conclusions.
- Vote every chance you get, and vote thoughtfully.