How to critically assess propaganda

This article is part of Propaganda

Propaganda tries to suppress our critical thinking to make us accept a message more easily. By recognising and analysing propaganda we are better able to assess the accuracy of the information. How do you do that?

7 questions to ask

The following questions help you to critically assess the message that is being put forward by propaganda:

  1. Is the information correct? Check which parts of the message are right or wrong. Does it mention any sources? What do other, trustworthy (news) sources say about this subject?
  2. Personal or general interest? Who benefits from this message being spread? The benefit can be financial or ideological.
  3. What is left out? By checking which information is not mentioned, you can assess what point of view is being represented.
  4. Whose values are they? How does the message relate to your own values? Do they match or not?
  5. What is written between the lines? Which ideas are being implied without being made explicit?
  6. Does it contain stereotypes? The goal of stereotypes, just like using specific words or expressions, is to influence our emotions.
  7. Is the solution too simple? Check whether the message is trying to draw your attention with oversimplified ideas, a hallmark of propaganda.

Analysing the impact

The impact of propaganda can vary wildly. It can be beneficial, harmless, or harmful. Propaganda never has the same impact on everyone: depending on every individual’s experiences and values, they can experience the impact of propaganda differently. 

If you want to assess whether propaganda is beneficial, harmless or harmful, take into account these factors:

  • The message. What information and ideas are being expressed?
  • The techniques. Propaganda uses a number of strategies to convince its target audience.
  • The surroundings and context. Where, when and how are people exposed to the message?
  • The communication tools. How is the message presented? How does it reach its audience?
  • The public reception. How do people feel about the message? What do they think? And are they free to accept or reject it?

Get practicing

Apply the theory in practice: try to analyse examples of propaganda to assess whether or not they are harmful.

Published on 16 October 2023