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09/12/2008 Internet killed the Propaganda Star? Not.

Seth Godin got me thinking with his post “Spin” about the current political campaign.

I always believed that the Web would end the Propaganda Age. To me, this age began with modern 20th century mass communication. Fascists and dictators started and developed the new mass propaganda in the 30’s and 40’s (Hitler and Stalin). Democracies refined and finessed it (“Duck and Cover”). The free market ultimately exploited it (The 30 second spot of the 60’s).Propaganda2

In the past, democracies protected themselves against propaganda by a strong 4th estate in news journalists. Communist countries had no such luck. I’m reminded of the old Soviet joke: In Pravda there is no Tass (“News”); in Tass there is no Pravda (“Truth”).

Today our news journalists seem more like entertainers, coveting the advertising dollars to keep them afloat.

While propaganda isn’t going out the window, the Web and the information age were supposed to provide enough knowledge to make us powerful enough to defend ourselves against it. By empowering and engaging individual people, we would be strong enough collectively to fight back. I think this has happened on the commercial side of life. Discussion boards, blogs, personal reviews and even Twitter have given consumers a truer picture of products, services and everyday life. We now have a vast network to consult with for every purchase or decision imaginable. What a dream come true!

But a look at the current political season shows that propaganda is alive and well. The Big Lie machine developed in the 30’s has reared its ugly head throughout the first part of this century. While we get heroes like John Stewart fighting against this, the major broadcasters continue to chase the money and regurgitate the propaganda.

Right now the Web doesn’t seem like it’s enough to combat this, unfortunately. Whether that’s due to micro fragmentation or something else is the big question.

Is the Web incapable of harnessing mass movement because at its core it’s a personal, one-to-one experience? Is engagement only possible online to move small crowds, but not large ones?

Why should an unknown person influence what car I buy but not whom I vote for?

Right now, it feels pretty depressing.


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