"Propaganda Techniques" is based upon
"Appendix I: PSYOP Techniques" from "Psychological Operations
Field Manual No.33-1" published by Headquarters; Department of the Army,
in Washington DC, on 31 August 1979. Appendix by Jon Roland, July, 1998.
Knowledge of propaganda techniques is necessary to improve one's own
propaganda and to uncover enemy PSYOP stratagems. Techniques, however, are not
substitutes for the procedures in PSYOP planning, development, or
Techniques may be categorized as:
Characteristics of the content self-evident. No additional
information is required to recognize the characteristics of this type of
propaganda. "Name calling" and the use of slogans are techniques of
Additional information required to be recognized. Additional
information is required by the target or analyst for the use of this technique
to be recognized. "Lying" is an example of this technique. The
audience or analyst must have additional information in order to know whether a
lie is being told.
Evident only after extended output. "Change of pace" is an
example of this technique. Neither the audience nor the analyst can know that a
change of pace has taken place until various amounts of propaganda have been
brought into focus.
Nature of the arguments used. An argument is a reason, or a series of
reasons, offered as to why the audience should behave, believe, or think in a
certain manner. An argument is expressed or implied.
Inferred intent of the originator. This technique refers to the
effect the propagandist wishes to achieve on the target audience.
"Divisive" and "unifying" propaganda fall within this
technique. It might also be classified on the basis of the effect it has on an
Appeal to Authority. Appeals to authority cite prominent figures to
support a position idea, argument, or course of action.
Assertion. Assertions are positive statements presented as fact. They
imply that what is stated is self-evident and needs no further proof.
Assertions may or may not be true.
Bandwagon and Inevitable Victory. Bandwagon-and-inevitable-victory
appeals attempt to persuade the target audience to take a course of action
"everyone else is taking." "Join the crowd." This technique
reinforces people's natural desire to be on the winning side. This technique is
used to convince the audience that a program is an expression of an
irresistible mass movement and that it is in their interest to join.
"Inevitable victory" invites those not already on the bandwagon to
join those already on the road to certain victory. Those already, or partially,
on the bandwagon are reassured that staying aboard is the best course of
Obtain Disapproval. This technique is used to get the audience to
disapprove an action or idea by suggesting the idea is popular with groups
hated, feared, or held in contempt by the target audience. Thus, if a group
which supports a policy is led to believe that undesirable, subversive, or
contemptible people also support it, the members of the group might decide to
change their position.
Glittering Generalities. Glittering generalities are intensely
emotionally appealing words so closely associated with highly valued concepts
and beliefs that they carry conviction without supporting information or
reason. They appeal to such emotions as love of country, home; desire for
peace, freedom, glory, honor, etc. They ask for approval without examination of
the reason. Though the words and phrases are vague and suggest different things
to different people, their connotation is always favorable: "The concepts
and programs of the propagandist are always good, desirable, virtuous."
Generalities may gain or lose effectiveness with changes in conditions. They
must, therefore, be responsive to current conditions. Phrases which called up
pleasant associations at one time may evoke unpleasant or unfavorable
connotations at another, particularly if their frame of reference has been
Vagueness. Generalities are deliberately vague so that the audience
may supply its own interpretations. The intention is to move the audience by
use of undefined phrases, without analyzing their validity or attempting to
determine their reasonableness or application.
Rationalization. Individuals or groups may use favorable generalities
to rationalize questionable acts or beliefs. Vague and pleasant phrases are
often used to justify such actions or beliefs.
Simplification. Favorable generalities are used to provide simple
answers to complex social, political, economic, or military problems.
Transfer. This is a technique of projecting positive or negative
qualities (praise or blame) of a person, entity, object, or value (an
individual, group, organization, nation, patriotism, etc.) to another in order
to make the second more acceptable or to discredit it. This technique is
generally used to transfer blame from one member of a conflict to another. It
evokes an emotional response which stimulates the target to identify with
Least of Evils. This is a technique of acknowledging that the course
of action being taken is perhaps undesirable but that any alternative would
result in an outcome far worse. This technique is generally used to explain the
need for sacrifices or to justify the seemingly harsh actions that displease
the target audience or restrict personal liberties. Projecting blame on the
enemy for the unpleasant or restrictive conditions is usually coupled with this
Name Calling or Substitutions of Names or Moral Labels. This
technique attempts to arouse prejudices in an audience by labeling the object
of the propaganda campaign as something the target audience fears, hates,
loathes, or finds undesirable.
Types of name calling:
Direct name calling is used when the audience is sympathetic or
neutral. It is a simple, straightforward attack on an opponent or opposing
Indirect name calling is used when direct name calling would
antagonize the audience. It is a label for the degree of attack between direct
name calling and insinuation. Sarcasm and ridicule are employed with this
Cartoons, illustrations, and photographs are used in name calling,
often with deadly effect.
Dangers inherent in name calling: In its extreme form, name calling may
indicate that the propagandist has lost his sense of proportion or is unable to
conduct a positive campaign. Before using this technique, the propagandist must
weigh the benefits against the possible harmful results. lt is best to avoid
use of this device.The obstacles are formidable, based primarily on the human
tendency to close ranks against a stranger. For example, a group may despise,
dislike, or even hate one of its leaders, even openly criticize him, but may
(and probably will) resent any nongroup member who criticizes and makes
disparaging remarks against that leader.
Pinpointing the Enemy: This is a form of simplification in which a
complex situation is reduced to the point where the "enemy" is
unequivocally identified. For example, the president of country X is forced to
declare a state of emergency in order to protect the peaceful people of his
country from the brutal, unprovoked aggression by the leaders of country Y.
Plain Folks or Common Man: The "plain folks" or
"common man" approach attempts to convince the audience that the
propagandist's positions reflect the common sense of the people. It is designed
to win the confidence of the audience by communicating in the common manner and
style of the audience. Propagandists use ordinary language and mannerisms (and
clothes in face-to-face and audiovisual communications) in attempting to
identify their point of view with that of the average person. With the plain
folks device, the propagandist can win the confidence of persons who resent or
distrust foreign sounding, intellectual speech, words, or mannerisms.
The audience can be persuaded to identify its interests with those of the
Presenting soldiers as plain folks. The propagandist wants to make
the enemy feel he is fighting against soldiers who are "decent, everyday
folks" much like himself; this helps to counter themes that paint the
opponent as a "bloodthirsty" killer.
Presenting civilians as plain folks. The "plain folks" or
"common man" device also can help to convince the enemy that the
opposing nation is not composed of arrogant, immoral, deceitful, aggressive,
warmongering people, but of people like himself, wishing to live at peace.
Humanizing leaders. This technique paints a more human portrait of
US and friendly military and civilian leaders. It humanizes them so that the
audience looks upon them as similar human beings or, preferably, as kind, wise,
Categories of Plain Folk Devices:
- Vernacular. This is the contemporary language of a specific region
or people as it is commonly spoken or written and includes songs, idioms, and
jokes. The current vernacular of the specific target audience must be used.
Dialect. Dialect is a variation in pronunciation, grammar, and
vocabulary from the norm of a region or nation. When used by the propagandist,
perfection is required. This technique is best left to those to whom the
dialect is native, because native level speakers are generally the best users
of dialects in propaganda appeals.
Errors. Scholastic pronunciation, enunciation, and delivery give the
impression of being artificial. To give the impression of spontaneity,
deliberately hesitate between phrases, stammer, or mispronounce words. When not
overdone, the effect is one of deep sincerity. Errors in written material may
be made only when they are commonly made by members of the reading audience.
Generally, errors should be restricted to colloquialisms.
Homey words. Homey words are forms of "virtue words" used
in the everyday life of the average man. These words are familiar ones, such as
"home," "family," "children," "farm,"
"neighbors," or cultural equivalents. They evoke a favorable
emotional response and help transfer the sympathies of the audience to the
propagandist. Homey words are widely used to evoke nostalgia. Care must be
taken to assure that homey messages addressed to enemy troops do not also have
the same effect on US/friendly forces.
If the propaganda or the propagandist lacks naturalness, there may be an
adverse backlash. The audience may resent what it considers attempts to mock
it, its language, and its ways.
Social Disapproval. This is a technique by which the propagandist
marshals group acceptance and suggests that attitudes or actions contrary to
the one outlined will result in social rejection, disapproval, or outright
ostracism. The latter, ostracism, is a control practice widely used within peer
groups and traditional societies.
Virtue Words. These are words in the value system of the target
audience which tend to produce a positive image when attached to a person or
issue. Peace, happiness, security, wise leadership, freedom, etc., are virtue
Slogans. A slogan is a brief striking phrase that may include
labeling and stereotyping. If ideas can be sloganized, they should be, as good
slogans are self-perpetuating.
Testimonials. Testimonials are quotations, in or out of context,
especially cited to support or reject a given policy, action, program, or
personality. The reputation or the role (expert, respected public figure, etc.)
of the individual giving the statement is exploited. The testimonial places the
official sanction of a respected person or authority on a propaganda message.
This is done in an effort to cause the target audience to identify itself with
the authority or to accept the authority's opinions and beliefs as its own.
Several types of testimonials are:
Official Sanction. The testimonial authority must have given the
endorsement or be clearly on record as having approved the attributed idea,
concept, action, or belief.
Four factors are involved:
Accomplishment. People have confidence in an authority who has
demonstrated outstanding ability and proficiency in his field.This
accomplishment should be related to the subject of the testimonial.
Identification with the target. People have greater confidence in an
authority with whom they have a common bond. For example, the soldier more
readily trusts an officer with whom he has undergone similar arduous
experiences than a civilian authority on military subjects.
Position of authority. The official position of authority may
instill confidence in the testimony; i.e., head of state, division commander,
Inanimate objects. Inanimate objects may be used in the testimonial
device. In such cases, the propagandist seeks to transfer physical attributes
of an inanimate object to the message. The Rock of Gibraltar, for example, is a
type of inanimate object associated with steadfast strength.
Personal Sources of Testimonial Authority:
Enemy leaders. The enemy target audience will generally place great
value on its high level military leaders as a source of information.
Fellow soldiers. Because of their common experiences, soldiers form
a bond of comradeship. As a result, those in the armed forces are inclined to
pay close attention to what other soldiers have to say.
Opposing leaders. Testimonials of leaders of the opposing nation are
of particular value in messages that outline war aims and objectives for
administering the enemy nation after it capitulates.
Famous scholars, writers, and other personalities. Frequently,
statements of civilians known to the target as authoritative or famous
scholars, writers, scientists, commentators, etc., can be effectively used in
Nonpersonal Sources of Testimonial Authority:
Institutions, ideologies, national flags, religious, and
other nonpersonal sources are often used. The creeds, beliefs, principles,
or dogmas of respected authorities or other public figures may make effective
Factors To Be Considered:
Plausibility. The testimonial must be plausible to the
target audience. The esteem in which an authority is held by the target
audience will not always transfer an implausible testimonial into effective
False testimonials. Never use false testimonials. Highly selective
testimonials? Yes. Lies (fabrications)? Never. Fabricated (false) testimonials
are extremely vulnerable because their lack of authenticity makes them easy to
challenge and discredit.
PROPAGANDA TECHNIQUES WHICH ARE BASED ON CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CONTENT
BUT WHICH REQUIRE ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON THE PART OF AN ANALYST TO BE
Incredible truths. There are times when the unbelievable (incredible)
truth not only can but should be used.
Among these occasions are:
- When the psychological operator is certain that a vitally important event
will take place.
- A catastrophic event, or one of significant tactical or strategic
importance, unfavorable to the enemy has occurred and the news has been hidden
from the enemy public or troops.
- The enemy government has denied or glossed over an event detrimental to its
A double-cutting edge. This technique has a double-cutting edge: It
increases the credibility of the US/friendly psychological operator while
decreasing the credibility of the enemy to the enemy's target audience.
Advanced security clearance must be obtained before using this technique so
that operations or projects will not be jeopardized or compromised. Actually,
propagandists using this technique will normally require access to special
compartmented information and facilities to avoid compromise of other sensitive
operations or projects of agencies of the US Government. Though such news will
be incredible to the enemy public, it should be given full play by the
psychological operator. This event and its significance will eventually become
known to the enemy public in spite of government efforts to hide it. The public
will recall (the psychological operator will "help" the recall
process) that the incredible news was received from US/allied sources. They
will also recall the deception of their government. The prime requirement in
using this technique is that the disseminated incredible truth must be or be
certain to become a reality.
Insinuation. Insinuation is used to create or stir up the suspicions
of the target audience against ideas, groups, or individuals in order to divide
an enemy. The propagandist hints, suggests, and implies,
allowing the audience to draw its own conclusions. Latent suspicions and
cleavages within the enemy camp are exploited in an attempt to structure them
into active expressions of disunity which weaken the enemy's war effort.
Exploitable vulnerabilities. Potential cleavages which may be exploited include
- Political differences between the enemy nation and its allies or
- Ethnic and regional differences.
- Religious, political, economic, or social differences.
- History of civilian animosity or unfair treatment toward enemy soldiers.
- Comforts available to rear area soldiers and not available to combat
- People versus the bureaucracy or hierarchy.
- Political differences between the ruling elite, between coalitions members,
or between rulers and those out of power.
- Differences showing a few benefiting at the expense of the general
- Unequal or inequitable tax burdens, or the high level of taxes. The
audience should be informed of hidden taxes.
- The scarcity of consumer goods for the general public and their
availability to the various elites and the dishonest.
- Costs of present government policies in terms of lost opportunities to
accomplish constructive socially desirable goals.
- The powerlessness of the individual. (This may be used to split the
audience from the policies of its government by disassociating its members from
those policies.) This technique could be used in preparing a campaign to gain
opposition to those government policies.
Insinuation devices. A number of devices are available to exploit
these and similar vulnerabilities:
Leading questions: The propagandist may ask questions which suggest
only one possible answer. Thus, the question, "What is there to do now
that your unit is surrounded and you are completely cut off?" insinuates
that surrender or desertion is the only reasonable alternative to annihilation.
Humor: Humor can be an effective form of insinuation. Jokes and
cartoons about the enemy find a ready audience among those persons in the
target country or military camp who normally reject straightforward accusations
or assertions. Jokes about totalitarian leaders and their subordinates often
spread with ease and rapidity. However, the psychological operator must realize
that appreciation of humor differs among target groups and so keep humor within
the appropriate cultural context.
Pure motives: This technique makes it clear that the side
represented by the propagandist is acting in the best interests of the target
audience, insinuating that the enemy is acting to the contrary. For example,
the propagandist can use the theme that a satellite force fighting on the side
of the enemy is insuring the continued subjugation of its country by helping
the common enemy.
Guilt by association: Guilt by association links a person, group, or
idea to other persons, groups, or ideas repugnant to the target audience. The
insinuation is that the connection is not mutual, accidental, or superficial.
Rumor: Malicious rumors are also a potentially effective form of
Pictorial and photographic propaganda: A photograph, picture, or
cartoon can often insinuate a derogatory charge more effectively than words.
The combination of words and photograph, picture, or cartoon can be far more
effective. In this content, selected and composite photographs can be extremely
Vocal: Radio propagandists can artfully suggest a derogatory notion,
not only with the words they use, but also by the way in which they deliver
them. Significant pauses, tonal inflections, sarcastic pronunciation,
ridiculing enunciation, can be more subtle than written insinuation.
Card stacking or selective omission. This is the process of choosing
from a variety of facts only those which support the propagandist's purpose. In
using this technique, facts are selected and presented which most effectively
strengthen and authenticate the point of view of the propagandist. It includes
the collection of all available material pertaining to a subject and the
selection of that material which most effectively supports the propaganda line.
Card stacking, case making, and censorship are all forms of selection. Success
or failure depends on how successful the propagandist is in selecting facts or
"cards" and presenting or "stacking" them. Increase
prestige. In time of armed conflict, leading personalities, economic and social
systems, and other institutions making up a nation are constantly subjected to
propaganda attacks. Card stacking is used to counter these attacks by
publicizing and reiterating the best qualities of the institutions, concepts,
or persons being attacked. Like most propaganda techniques, card stacking is
used to supplement other methods. The technique may also be used to describe a
subject as virtuous or evil and to give simple answers to a complicated
subject. An intelligent propagandist makes his case by imaginative selection of
The work of the card stacker in using selected facts is divided into two
First, the propagandist selects only favorable facts and presents
them to the target in such a manner as to obtain a desired reaction.
Second, the propagandist uses these facts as a basis for
conclusions, trying to lead the audience into accepting the conclusions by
accepting the facts presented.
Presenting the other side. Some persons in a target audience believe
that neither belligerent is entirely virtuous. To them propaganda solely in
terms of right and wrong may not be credible. Agreement with minor aspects of
the enemy's point of view may overcome this cynicism. Another use of presenting
the other side is to reduce the impact of propaganda that opposing
propagandists are likely to be card stacking (selective omission).
Lying and distortion. Lying is stating as truth that which is
contrary to fact. For example, assertions may be lies. This technique will
not be used by US personnel. It is presented for use of the analyst of
Simplification. This is a technique in which the many facts of a
situation are reduced so the right or wrong, good or evil, of an act or
decision is obvious to all. This technique (simplification) provides simple
solutions for complex problems. By suggesting apparently simple solutions for
complex problems, this technique offers simplified interpretations of events,
ideas, concepts, or personalities. Statements are positive and firm; qualifying
words are never used.
Simplification may be used to sway uneducated and educated audiences. This
is true because many persons are well educated or highly skilled, trained
specialists in a specific field, but the limitations of time and energy often
force them to turn to and accept simplifications to understand, relate, and
react to other areas of interest.
Simplification has the following characteristics:
It thinks for others: Some people accept information which they
cannot verify personally as long as the source is acceptable to them or the
authority is considered expert. Others absorb whatever they read, see, or hear
with little or no discrimination. Some people are too lazy or unconcerned to
think problems through. Others are uneducated and willingly accept convenient
It is concise: Simplification gives the impression of going to the
heart of the matter in a few words. The average member of the target audience
will not even consider that there may be another answer to the problem.
It builds ego: Some people are reluctant to believe that any field
of endeavor, except their own, is difficult to understand. For example, a
layman is pleased to hear that '"law is just common sense dressed up in
fancy language," or "modern art is really a hodgepodge of aimless
experiment or nonsense." Such statements reinforce the ego of the lay
audience. It is what they would like to believe, because they are afraid that
law and modern art may actually be beyond their understanding. Simple
explanations are given for complex subjects and problems.
Stereotyping is a form of simplification used to fit persons, groups,
nations, or events into readymade categories that tend to produce a desired
image of good or bad. Stereotyping puts the subject (people, nations, etc.) or
event into a simplistic pattern without any distinguishing individual
CHARACTERISTICS OF CONTENT WHICH MAY BECOME EVIDENT WHEN NUMEROUS PIECES
OF OUTPUT ARE EXAMINED
Change of Pace. Change of pace is a technique of switching from
belligerent to peaceful output, from "hot" to "cold," from
persuasion to threat, from gloomy prophecy to optimism, from emotion to fact.
Stalling. Stalling is a technique of deliberately withholding
information until its timeliness is past, thereby reducing the possibility of
Shift of Scene. With this technique, the propagandist replaces one
"field of battle" with another. It is an attempt to take the
spotlight off an unfavorable situation or condition by shifting it to another,
preferably of the opponent, so as to force the enemy to go on the defense.
An idea or position is repeated in an attempt to elicit an almost automatic
response from the audience or to reinforce an audience's opinion or attitude.
This technique is extremely valid and useful because the human being is
basically a creature of habit and develops skills and values by repetition
(like walking, talking, code of ethics, etc.). An idea or position may be
repeated many times in one message or in many messages. The intent is the same
in both instances, namely, to elicit an immediate response or to reinforce an
opinion or attitude. The audience is not familiar with the details of the
threat posed. Ignorance of the details can be used to pose a threat and build
fear. Members of the audience are self-centered. The target can take immediate
action to execute simple, specific instructions.
Fear of change. People fear change, particularly sudden, imposed
change over which they have no control. They fear it will take from them
status, wealth, family, friends, comfort, safety, life, or limb. That's why the
man in the foxhole hesitates to leave it. He knows and is accustomed to the
safety it affords. He is afraid that moving out of his foxhole will expose him
to new and greater danger. That is why the psychological campaign must give him
a safe, honorable way out of his predicament or situation.
Terrorism. The United States is absolutely opposed to the use of
terror or terror tactics. But the psychological operator can give a boomerang
effect to enemy terror, making it reverberate against the practitioner, making
him repugnant to his own people, and all others who see the results of his
heinous savagery. This can be done by disseminating fully captioned photographs
in the populated areas of the terrorist's homeland. Such leaflets will separate
civilians from their armed forces; it will give them second thoughts about the
decency and honorableness of their cause, make them wonder about the
righteousness of their ideology, and make the terrorists repugnant to them.
Followup leaflets can "fire the flames" of repugnancy, indignation,
and doubt, as most civilizations find terror repugnant.
In third countries. Fully captioned photographs depicting
terroristic acts may be widely distributed in third countries (including the
nation sponsoring the enemy) where they will instill a deep revulsion in the
general populace. Distribution in neutral countries is particularly desirable
in order to swing the weight of unbiased humanitarian opinion against the
enemy. The enemy may try to rationalize and excuse its conduct (terroristic),
but in so doing, it will compound the adverse effect of its actions, because it
can never deny the validity of true photographic representations of its acts.
Thus, world opinion will sway to the side of the victimized people.
Friendly territory. Under no circumstances should such leaflets be
distributed in friendly territory. To distribute them in the friendly area in
which the terrorists' acts took place would only create feelings of insecurity.
This would defeat the purpose of the psychological operator, which is to build
confidence in the government or agency he represents.
by Jon Roland, July, 1998
To complete a discussion on this topic one should also review
Logical Fallacies that are often used to
To this should be cited some of the techniques used in public discourse:
Hang him by his words: Misquoting or quoting out of context. From
Cardinal Rechelieu: "Give me six lines written by the most honorable of
men and I will find an excuse in them to hang him."
Hidden premise: "When did you stop beating your wife?"
Guilt by association. Your acquaintances are bad so you must be
Halo and reverse halo effect: Inferring status or authority, or lack
thereof, from cosmetic attributes. "He looks like a leader." "He
acts like a loser."
Pygmalion effect: Judging a person or his argument by the language
or dialect he uses or how well he uses it.
Stigmatization: Attributing bad luck to character deficiency.