Propaganda and Manipulation

a. What is Propaganda and Manipulation?

Propaganda and Manipulation are similar.  Both are misleading and used to persuade another to do something.  Both rely heavily on emotions.

For example, an advertisement says that a competitor’s “automotive brake pads are made with water.” That statement is factually misleading.  But it carries no emotional component.  As such, it has little effect on manipulating others.  Add the phrase, “Everyone knows that brake pads made with water will fail in rainy weather.” Including an emotional element (brake failure causes death or injury) makes the information more persuasive.  As such, propaganda and manipulation trigger an emotion that carries a consequence (detriment or benefit).  It also provides a path for spotting them.  


Take the example of braking pads.  What is the consequence?  That would be the failure of the brakes during rainy periods.  What evidence shows a failure of the competitor’s brake pads during the rainy weather?  None.  The statement uses two well-known fallacies.  The first is “confusing fact with an opinion,” and the second is “everyone knows.” This is the bandwagon manipulation fallacy. 

The following are three advertisements.  Identify as many statements in the sample commercial as you believe are propaganda.  First, list each consequence or benefit, state whether it is a fact or opinion, and follow that with supporting information.  Next, cite the applicable fallacy, if any, and then the conclusion.  Once you have done that, click on the proposed answer and compare.  It would be best if you practiced with your answers before reading the sample answer.  The more you practice, the better you will spot propaganda and manipulation.

Example # 1.

The table shows one possible answer out of many.  It has 5 different consequences or benefits listed. The overall conclusion is that the advertisement is both misleading and false.  It does not mean that the product should not be purchased.  It only means that propaganda should not be the sole reason for buying it.  Your purchase could be based on a friend’s recommendation, the price, prior experience, or other objective reasons.

Example # 2.   This is another potential advertisement.  Compare your analysis to those set forth in the proposed answer.

The table shows one possible answer.  It has 5 different consequences or benefits listed.  The overall conclusion is that the advertisement is both misleading and false.  It does not mean that the product should not be purchased. 

Example # 3.   Last practice commercial.

The table shows one possible answer.  It has 4 different consequences or benefits listed.  But there are more than those four.  The overall conclusion is that the advertisement is both misleading and false.

b. What to Do When Propaganda is Found.

The purpose of understanding propaganda is to subdue emotions and allow for a more reasoned decision.  This is because emotions obscure analytical thought.  It may be that no further investigation is needed.  If the cost is substantial, a more thorough analysis might be warranted.  If more details on the product are required, the product specification page is an excellent place to look.  All websites have significant biases—even those websites purporting to be factual information, such as Wikipedia.  Blogging, social media, and news websites should be considered gossip and used only as a lead to find more credible information sources. 

1. Questions About the Seller and Manufacturer. Usually, the product is sold by a middleman.  The product specification page will generally have the name of the manufacturer.   Go to the websites of the selling company and the manufacturer and locate the “about” page.   This will give information about the companies and their addresses. 

 The following websites may be used to identify complaints that others have reported.  These are opinions and should be considered as raising potential problems.  Sometimes what appears to be an adverse disclosure may be the opposite.  For example, lawsuits against large companies may indicate that the company is financially successful.  Attorneys seldom file suits against companies with no assets.

  • Ripoff Report
  • Pacer (Public Access to Court Records Federal) This service provides all documents filed in criminal and civil lawsuits against companies and individuals. There is a fee for this service.
  • Dun and Bradstreet. Reports on Businesses-Fee based
  • General Internet Search on Company [Search for “Complaints against (name of company)”]
  • Corporation Commissioner for the applicable State to search validity and ethics complaints against a corporation or LLC within the State.
  • PissedConsumer has a website to post and review complaints.

2. Questions About the Product or Service. Many internet sites provide helpful information regarding the product. 

c. Remedies for Propaganda and Manipulation.

Five different remedies below may be available when propaganda has caused the injury.

1. Market-Based Remedies. This is the least expensive remedy.  Many websites allow consumers to rate or complain about a company or a product. 

  • Ripoff Report
  • State Department of Consumer Affairs. Each state has its department.  A sample link is for the State of Nevada. 
  • Federal Trade Commission.  This is a free service by the federal government that registers complaints. It is an effective way to protest a product or a company.
  • United States Government-Complaints.
  • PissedConsumer is a website to post a review.
  • Company Website Reviews.  Many websites have a procedure for writing a review. These reviews are often informative.

2. Legal Actions. This is the costliest remedy and can be very successful.  Most states have laws that prohibit misleading advertising.  A sample of the deceptive trade practice in Nevada is representative.  

If you are over 60 relating to certain situations, some States allow punitive damages and, in some instances, allow attorney fees to be recovered.  Whenever attorney fees are recoverable, attorneys often take the case on a contingency fee basis (no attorney fees unless there is a recovery and only from the recovery proceeds).

A search of the federal district court and appellate cases involving a company, a specific product, or a business practice can be made on Pacer (Public Access to Court Records.)  This is a fee-based service.

Legislative3. Legislative Actions. There are legislative actions that can be taken if insufficient laws protect against unfair business practices.  Although this is primarily a State law matter, the federal government may have some oversight.  The names and addresses of the State legislators are posted on the State government pages.  For example, in Nevada, the names and addresses of the state legislators can be obtained.  

Hundreds of Political Action Committees pool funds and direct those funds to support various political candidates and issues. 

Organizations4. Professional Organizations. Many professional organizations regulate businesses, people, and products or services.  There are too many to list, but they can be found by performing an internet search of the type or category of the products sold or services rendered.  

The members of these organizations are the very people you have a dispute with.   As such, they are seriously biased against your interests.  On the other hand, if one of their members violates their ethics laws, the Organization could be very helpful in assisting with a resolution.

5. Non-Profit Service Organization. Many philanthropic and other non-profit organizations were formed to help people.  Examples include American Civil Liberties Union ACLU), The Ford Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, etc.   There is a list of 100 top philanthropic foundations disclosed in ARCO