How to recognise propaganda

This article is part of Propaganda

It’s important to recognise when certain information is aimed at persuading you. Discover how you can recognise propaganda in order to correctly assess the value of a message.

10 characteristics of propaganda

There are 10 characteristics you can recognise propaganda by. Not all of these need to be present before we deem something propaganda. If you can find at least half, there is a good chance that the message is propaganda.

  1. The message compels you to do or think something.
  2. The message targets a specific group of people.
  3. There is a clear opponent.
  4. The message paints a stereotypical image of the opponent.
  5. The message presents complicated matters as if they are simple.
  6. The message evokes emotions.
  7. The message is brief and easy to repeat. Pay attention to the use of slogans.
  8. The message contains lies, half-truths and quotes that have been taken out of context.
  9. The message can only be found via a limited set of media.
  10. The message makes use of symbolism.

An example of propaganda

In their heyday, the terrorist group IS distributed all sorts of videos and even a professional magazine aimed at glorifying the jihadi lifestyle and recruiting new members. In those messages, we can find (amongst others) the following characteristics of propaganda:

  • There is a clear opponent. The IS magazine constantly refers to ‘non-believers’ and ‘crusaders’. The us-versus-them mentality is striking: the ‘good muslims’ against the rest of the world.
  • The message evokes emotions. The videos show gruesome images of bombings that villify the enemy. The bombings and their consequences are shown to invoke anger towards the enemy. 
  • The message compels you to do or think something. The responsibility for the terror attacks is blamed on its victims, for example: “The attacks in Paris are a response to France’s bombing of IS.”
  • The message can only be found via a limited set of media. The IS magazine couldn’t simply be found in the corner store, and their videos aren’t openly available on YouTube.
  • The message makes use of symbolism. The videos paint the IS fighters as heroes by using Hollywood-esque techniques.
  • The message targets a specific group of people. People who radicalise are often in search of a social identity. IS tries to attract youngsters with the prospect of being part of a chosen group.

4 effective propaganda techniques

Successful propaganda makes use of various techniques that help convince the audience. Discover them here.

Want to learn more?

Published on 16 October 2023