The Real Age of Propaganda

There is a great book on propaganda. It’s called The Age of Propaganda . It’s a very worthy book that I sincerely recommend.

Cover of The Age of Propaganda Book

But when you hear the word propaganda, don’t you think of it as of something from the past? You think of nazi Germany and those long speeches in black-and-white.

It’s not something that happens today. And in a way you are right.

That propaganda was small (only one country) and cozy (only one language). Yes, they tried to influence other countries, but it was a small effort. It was like selling hand-crafted products by mail order.

Today’s thing is like AliExpress selling cheap industrial goods online.

The Real Thing

The real age of propaganda is just starting. It’s the only thing that Russia does well in the war against Ukraine. And it’s something HAMAS is exceptionally good in the war against Israel (not without Russia’s help, apparently).

Propaganda of the 20th century is kindergarten play compared to what we see today. Today’s product is not hand crafted, it’s mass-produced at fully automated AI factories operated by a few smart people. It’s not small and cozy, it’s huge and it’s exported everywhere. Today’s delivery of propaganda abroad is not mail-order of hand-crafted goods, it’s Amazon and AliExpress scale logistics of millions of mass produced cheap products.

HAMAS fakes with the same guy in many different roles
HAMAS actor as a fighter, injured, press, patient, mourning father

The effect is devastating to human mind a spirit. The simple wrong answers were always easier to accept, but there were never so many to choose from. And nobody cares if the answers they are consuming are true.

In case of HAMAS it’s especially easy to see. HAMAS is a terrorist organization, we all know that. It’s basically controlling the entire Gaza region. Who in their right mind would ever expect to hear a single word of truth out of them?

I mean you need motivation to say the truth instead of lying to everybody to your full advantage. In democracies you have free press, you have more or less independent prosecution systems, you have free speech where somebody might uncover something and make it public. This give at least some motivation to not lie.

Independent reporter kissed by one of HAMAS leaders
Presumably independent reporter kissed by one of HAMAS leaders

Obviously any dictatorship will use any truth it can in propaganda. Truth is more convincing when it plays along. But it’s like with the famous saying that even a broken watch shows correct time twice a day.

The scary thing the people see the photos like the ones shown — with the same actor playing a distressed citizen, a fighter, a mourning father, and injured civilian, a doctor and a reporter. And people read stories that presumably independent reporters were magically present at the border when HAMAS breached it. And it changes nothing.

Emotionally they were already bought by propaganda. And no amount of truth will change their mindset. Because propaganda is not trying to convince, it’s trying to create an emotion.

And once it succeeded… it’s not afraid of truth any more.

HAMAS is openly saying “we used the money received as aid from developed nations to build underground tunnels and weapons. Protection of civilians is the task of UN”. And does it affect their popularity? No. Because the emotional link is already there “Israelis are killing civilians”.

Pro-Palestine Rally in London, November 2023 (source)

People are rallying on the streets because of the “humanitarian crisis unseen in the last 80 years” demanding cease-fire.

But it’s not true. It’s not unseen. The scale of the humanitarian tragedy in Israel and Palestine is simply incomparable to what is happening in Ukraine. The death toll of the war Russia is waging against Ukraine is in the hundred thousands. Entire cities were erased from the face of the earth. There are more landmines than ever in human history anywhere. And it’s much, much closer to Europe.

Yet we don’t see such scale of protests on the streets. Why? Because Ukraine sucks at informational warfare and Russia is good at it. Russia has been pouring millions into propaganda everywhere and helping HAMAS along the way. Nobody cares about a full-scale war at their doorstep any more.

Humans can only worry about one thing at a time. So while they are worrying about Israel killing Palestinian children they are not worrying about Russia killing and kidnapping Ukrainian children on a much larger scale.

It looks like democracies are just worse at propaganda than the dictatorships are, just like reasonable politicians are less popular than the extremist populists.

And that’s really bad news.