Defining Propaganda

One of the difficulties in labeling propaganda is there is no set definition of the word.  While critics, analysts and academics agree on some basic principles, the scope of the word itself is generally defined in ambiguous terms.  Below I have provided a list of definitions that go to demonstrate this ambiguity while hopefully providing some insight into the word itself.


Propaganda is the deliberate and systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.  -Garth S. Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell, Propaganda and Persuasion


Propaganda is the task of creating and directing public opinion.   -Cate Haste, “The Machinery of Propaganda”


Propaganda in the broadest sense is the technique of influencing human action by the manipulation of representations.”   -Harold D. Lasswell, “Propaganda”


“.…”propaganda” is conceived of as strategically devised messages that are disseminated to masses of people by an institution for the purpose of generating action benefiting its source.   -Shawn J. Parry-Giles, The Rhetorical Presidency, Propaganda, and the Cold War, 1945-1955


“Propaganda was originally defined as the dissemination of biased ideas and opinions, often through the use of lies and deception…the word propaganda has since evolved to mean mass “suggestion” or “influence” through the manipulation of symbols and the psychology of the individual.”   -Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson, Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion.


information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.   -Oxford English Dictionary


information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.”   -Random House unabridged dictionary


Since propaganda is a social phenomenon, to define it is to prescribe its social signification and also to accept or reject the utility of the concept. There is also debate on meaning, since we have no rigorous scientific source or juridical authority for the term but only historical usage. To attempt to define propaganda is to tread lightly upon a conceptual minefield. How we define propaganda is in fact the expression of the theories we hold about propaganda.   -Nicholas Jackson O’Shaughnessy, Politics and Propaganda: Weapons of Mass Seduction

9 responses to “Defining Propaganda

  1. Thanks for the excellent articles. Recognizing truth from fiction is becoming much more of a challenge for any of us.

    I’ve looked at this from the point of view of “spin” (the sanitized name for domestic propaganda/the dark side of advertising and public relations.)

    Spotting Spin – Some Tricks of the Trade

  2. Anonymous

    🙂 xD LOL

  3. LOLOLOL caca xD JK

    hello 🙂 i am this person up here

  4. Gloria Asante

    too short.

  5. Pingback: Lies, Damned lies, and Right Wing Media – Art by Rob Goldstein

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