Monday, 13 September 2010
CASE 085 - Disinformation & Propaganda
Disinformation is deliberately misleading information announced publicly or leaked by a government, intelligence agency, corporation or other entity for the purpose of influencing opinions or perceptions. Disinformation is produced by people who intend to deceive their audience. A group might plant disinformation in reports, in press releases, in public statements or in practically any other routine, occasional or unusual communique. Disinformation can also be leaked, or covertly released to a source who can be trusted to repeat the false information. A common disinformation tactic is to mix truth, half-truths, and lies. Disinformants sometimes seek to gain the confidence of their audience through emotional appeals or by using semi-neutral language interlaced with threads of disinformation.
"Disinformation is a fact of life in politics. Those who practice politics for a living call it "spin." Honest people call it lying through your teeth."
Disinformation is especially successful when its core agenda is bundled in the sincere convictions of disseminators who have their own vested interests for believing and defending it. For instance, a cold and calculating intelligence may engineer a disinformation package which is then propagated through a naive individual who finds it so appealing to his ego identity and emotional security that he will do everything to defend it. This allows a small and unseen group of disinformers to work through a vast body of unsuspecting vectors who sincerely believe in what they are doing.
An Example of Disinformation
In 2003, the French ambassador to the United States sent a letter to US Congress complaining about media "bias" against France. Jean-David Levitte's letter contained a list of nine "false" stories which appeared in the American media. The "false" stories mentioned in the letter reportedly include:
✒ Allegations that France and Germany had in 1998 supplied Iraq with switches used in detonating nuclear weapons.
✒ A report quoting an "American intelligence source" saying that France possessed prohibited strains of the smallpox virus.
✒ A report accusing two French companies of selling Iraq spare parts for planes and helicopters.
✒ Several stories about sales of components for long-range missiles, radar equipment and fighter planes.
✒ Allegations that French officials in Syria had helped Iraqi leaders wanted by the US flee to Europe by giving them French passports.
So as you see, these were serious allegations spread by people from within the Bush administration.
Black propaganda is false information that often pretends to be from a friendly source, purports to emanate from a source other than the true one. It is designed to affect the minds and emotions of a group for a specific purpose. Governments will generally conduct black propaganda operations for two different reasons:
1) So that a government is more likely to succeed in convincing their target audience that the information that they are seeking to influence them with is disguised, and that its motivations are not apparent.
2) Black propaganda is sometimes necessary for diplomatic reasons. It covers a government's involvement in activities that may be detrimental to its foreign policies.
Some of the most effective propaganda techniques work by distracting the public's attention away from important issues (smoke screen). It's important to read between the lines of the news and see what isn't being reported, or what is reported once, quietly, and not followed up.
In an age of information overload, distraction techniques can as effective as active propaganda. One way to test for distraction is to look for items that appear repeatedly in foreign press (from neutral and hostile countries) and that don't appear in your own. But beware of deliberately placed lies that are repeated with the hope that people will believe it if it is repeated often enough.
All active propaganda techniques can be tested by asking if they tend the target audience to act in the best interests of the distributor of the propaganda. Propaganda presents one point of view as if it were the best or only way to look at a situation.
Sometimes propaganda can be detected by the fact that it changes before and after a critical event, whereas more honest information should largely remain the same after the event as before. If there are big disparities, or if some "valuable lesson" or "wake-up call" has occurred, it means that what was provided before the fact was not really "instruction," but "guessing." 
Examples of Legitimate Propaganda Techniques
1) Bandwagon and "inevitable-victory" appeals attempt to persuade the target audience to join in and take the course of action that "everyone else is taking." 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 best interest to join.
2) Black-and-White fallacy - Presenting only two choices: "You are either with us, or you are with the enemy."
3) 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 target audience.
4) Demonizing the Enemy - Making individuals from the opposing nation, from a different ethnic group, or those who support the opposing viewpoint appear to be subhuman.
5) Flag-waving - An attempt to justify an action on the grounds that doing so will make one more patriotic, or in some way benefit a group, country, or idea. The feeling of patriotism which this technique attempts to inspire may not necessarily diminish or entirely omit one's capability for rational examination of the matter in question.
6) Half-truth - A half-truth is a deceptive statement which may come in several forms and includes some element of truth. The statement might be partly true, the statement may be totally true but only part of the whole truth, or it may utilize some deceptive element, such as improper punctuation, or double meaning, especially if the intent is to deceive, evade blame or misrepresent the truth.
7) Intentional 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.