On Small Propaganda Tricks

The Inspiration

I had a short discussion on Mastodon today that started with this post:

@yogthos toot saying: Canadian ‘aid’ program set the table for post-Maidan coup land privatization drive

Since this was a stone thrown at Ukraine I had to participate.

But this blog post and this blog is not about Ukraine but about thinking, so let’s look at this at a slightly different angle, which does not require us to take sides in the immediate discussion about Ukraine, Canadian aid or land ownership, but rather explains a trick that is used by propagandists all over the world so much, that it’s probably one of the oldest and most used in the book. It’s also one of the most effective.

If you read the post again and ask yourself: what is this about? The answer is obvious: it’s about the impact of some Canadian aid program on land privatization in Ukraine. Personally, I have no idea what aid program he’s referring to. But that’s not the point. And it’s also not the point of this “toot” (as they call posts on Mastodon).

The Distraction

You see, the reference to the Canadian aid program is a distraction. As any illusionist would tell you, in order to pull off a trick you need to distract viewers attention to a place where nothing is actually happening, while you do your thing in another place altogether.

Frankly, most people don’t care about the Canadian aid to Ukraine and even it’s impact on Ukrainian land ownership. But even if they do, they’ll either agree or disagree with it, and that would mean they got distracted.

The Trick

The real trick that the author wants you to just not pay attention to, and therefore accept without critical evaluation, is in the word coup.

You see, we don’t call a positive political event a coup.

coup a sudden decisive exercise of force in politics and especially the violent overthrow or alteration of an existing government by a small group (Merriam-Webster )

Sudden1, decisive, violent overthrow by a small group of people2. Also violent, apparently. There is also the emotional attitude that the word carries. A coup is something planned behind closed doors and executed by violent people in palaces. It’s something that happens in countries you wouldn’t want to visit even in the best of days.

So while the poster distracts your attention by seemingly talking about Canandian aid, he is in fact smuggling a very emotionally charged and negative description to the events in Ukraine into your mind. With a single four-letter word. Not bad.

Now, you have the full right to agree or disagree with his description, but if you want to be thinking critically you need to notice it and ask yourself: wait a moment, do I actually agree that it was a coup and not a revolution, a peaceful protest, a democratic protest, an act of direct democracy by the people?

Maybe you’ll need to do some reading, maybe you’re just not interested. But if you noticed it - you didn’t get tricked.

As I said before this trick is extremely effective and used a lot both in print and during speeches and debates. Now you know about it.


After I published this post and got some comments on it, I have managed to find an even better example of the same trick by the same poster.

lemmy post by @yogthos US media covers up Israeli war crimes in Jenin

This example is even better than the first one, so I had to update the post. Look what’s going on here:

There is a clear double standard between the media hysteria over alleged Russian atrocities in Ukraine and the silence over the rampages by Israeli troops and settlers on the occupied West Bank.

Take a moment yourself and try to point out, where is the distraction and where is the trick?

So the distraction is the whole part about media having double standards, and the trick, as always is in details. You see, while you’re thinking about Israel and your position on what’s going on there the poster is smuggling two very charged words: hysteria and alleged.

Neat, ha? If this wasn’t propaganda I would almost admire the cunning and elegance. So the media reaction to the largest war since WW2 with literally thousands over thousands of documented war crimes is called “hysteria” and the crimes themselves are “alleged”, unproven, maybe non-existent.

As I said before, your opinion on the subject is your business. But for the sake of critical thinking you have to notice these words being smuggled while you’re distracted.

  1. Euromaidan lasted 3 months and 1 day. Does this count as sudden? Wiki  ↩︎

  2. Does this group of people seem small and violent? Five hundered thousand Ukrainians singing national anthem during the 2013 revolution YouTube  ↩︎