Propaganda, Goebbels and Our Era (“Those Who Can Make You Believe In Odds, Are Able to Convince You to Commit Horror.”)

“Many roads lead to violence or hatred: discouragement and loss of hope, inertia and apathy, the development of bitterness and grudge leading to violence, not always the same in quality and modes of expression. The end result is a diffused discomfort that can turn into extreme violence “

Paul Joseph Goebbels was Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany in 1933-1945. The Professor of Psychology at Yale University, Leonard Doob in 1950, based on published and unpublished excerpts from Goebbels’ diary, summed up Goebbels’ basic principles of propaganda. These principles have been studied extensively by communication researchers and they are considered particularly applicable in the digital world but also in politics.

According to these principles, propaganda should focus on a particular enemy, while its message should be simple and addressed to the masses and not to the intellectuals. Distinct expressions for the enemy should be used, containing words and slogans that will produce the desired reactions (desired for the propagandist) by the crowd. Then these words will be associated with an event and it should be easy for the crowd to memorize them and repeat them. The propagandist should also repeat them again and again, but only in the right circumstances.

The message and the expressions must be transmitted through the appropriate means of communication, and it is understood that they must attract the attention of the public. The message should be consisted of generalizations with which most people can feel familiar. It should also be transmitted by prestigious people. In the countries occupied by Nazi Germany, particular emphasis was placed on acquiring the mass media by the occupying forces.

In the German mass media, Goebbels had found that the Germans wanted entertainment beyond the propaganda messages (it is not accidental nowadays that fun entertainment TV shows are used). The direct use of propaganda through texts was not effective in the newspapers and in this case the propaganda was done through side-by-side news.

Transposition is also a very important principle of propaganda used in politics and is no more than blaming the opponent for his/her mistakes and inadequacies. Obviously, this is not a moral principle.

The other principle is exaggeration and fear, but at an “acceptable” level. According to Goebbels, the handling of fear needs attention. Great fear causes panic and loss of morale while little fear causes self-indulgence and apathy. Therefore, propaganda must create and strengthen fear regarding the consequences of defeat. On the other hand, it must reduce fear (except the one regarding the consequences of defeat) when people can not reduce it on their own.

The principle of renewal is something we often experience and involves bombardment with messages and information that prevent the individual from thinking. When the opponent / enemy responds to these messages, then the audience will no longer be interested because its attention will be driven to something else.

Another principle is that of liking which concerns combining piecemeal information to create a new interpretation. If this piece of fragmentary information is transmitted from many sources, then it acquires its own substance and “specific weight”. This principle is reminiscent of several post-modernist historians because it claims that there are no events but interpretations or even fake news.

The propagandist is the one who tells the truth (as long as it does not affect his credibility) and he has to thoroughly monitor what he claims even if it is false but it can not be proved as such, while the enemy (according to the propagandist) always lies. If the purpose of enemy propaganda is to get a response, then silence is the best solution, especially if there are no strong counter-arguments. If the enemy’s propaganda lies, the reaction will be the immediate response. Silence should also be used when there is negative news.

Censorship, according to Goebbels, is an essential weapon of propaganda because it restricts the material that acts against it. However, censorship should not be obviously exercised, because the credibility of the regime is at stake. This material, if possible, will be used as anti-propaganda material against the enemy.

The principles of propaganda are still applied today in both marketing and political communication. However, especially in today’s very difficult times, we must remember and not forget the words of Voltaire “those who can make you believe in odds, are able to convince you to commit horror.”

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