A democratic response to the hostile propaganda of dictators and demagogues
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A Democratic Response to the Hostile Propaganda of Dictators and Demagogues. Anthony R. Pratkanis University of California. Why is the audience hostile?. Enemy combatants in battle (Response: psychological warfare) Realistic conflict (Response: “Getting to yes;” peace-building; diplomacy)

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A democratic response to the hostile propaganda of dictators and demagogues l.jpg

A Democratic Response to the Hostile Propaganda of Dictators and Demagogues

Anthony R. Pratkanis

University of California


Why is the audience hostile l.jpg
Why is the audience hostile? and Demagogues

  • Enemy combatants in battle (Response: psychological warfare)

  • Realistic conflict (Response: “Getting to yes;” peace-building; diplomacy)

  • Hostile propaganda: A demagogue (attempting to gain power) or dictator (has power) uses propaganda (playing on emotions & prejudices) to convince a people or nation to hate someone


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The seeds of hostile propaganda and the Road to Wigan Pier and Demagogues

  • Orwell was right:

    • Hostile propaganda thrives when people feel relatively deprived & frustrated

    • Frustration leads to feelings of inadequacy & fear and a desire for an explanation & solution

  • The successful dictator & demagogue

    • uses frustration as the basis of propaganda by providing “explanations” for the feelings, “solutions,” and self-esteem boosts

    • may create frustration & fear with imaginary “threats” to the group (ala Jim Jones in Guyana)


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The nature of hostile propaganda and how to counter it and Demagogues

  • An historical analysis of the propaganda of demagogues and dictators shows a surprising pattern of the same tactics used over and over again

  • A democratic response requires

    • Countering the propagandist’s tactic

    • Providing positive influence to establish a positive relationship and democracy



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Fixation on a phantom goal Dictators

  • A phantom is an unavailable option that is made to look real

    • Juche is an advanced ideology that will free world of US & Japanese imperialism

    • Islamist brings the City of God on earth

  • Powerful tactic because

    • Gives hope & meaning to replace frustration

    • Motivates the faithful to achieve the phantom

    • Social control (enemies don’t want phantom)

    • Makes alternatives look unattractive and the regime important


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Counters to phantoms Dictators

  • Offer real hope (after listening to what the target audience wants)

    • A vision of what can be

    • A reasonable plan to get there

    • Demonstrate progress to obtain the goal

  • Point out (indirectly) the weakness of the demagogue’s phantom (such as publicizing internal complaints)


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Of god & history (leader credibility) Dictators

  • Leader creates myth of personal divinity/ordained by history

    • Kim can stop rain, bring Spring in the fall, and turn the sea into fertile land

    • Bin Laden’s flight out of Saudi Arabia compared to Mohammed’s flight from Mecca; speeches laced with “Allah willing;” fatwa’s; release of sweet odor of martyrs’ body after death

  • Powerful tactic because it is hard to disobey “god;” extreme behavior is acceptable

  • Leader provides a solution to frustration (escape from freedom)


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Counters to leader credibility Dictators

  • Publicize people’s criticism of leader

  • Support multiple leaders and alternatives

  • Use subtle communications to undermine leader’s grip (e.g. body of martyrs did not smell sweet)

  • Do not strengthen the leader’s position by playing into leader myths


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Granfalloon with scapegoating Dictators

  • Use or create a superior in-group identity (Aryans, Islam, Juche in N. Korea) and an inferior out-group (Jews, Americans)

  • Powerful tactic because

    • Cue to what is truth

    • Induces conformity (to be in the group)

    • Provides excuse (scapegoat) for frustration and leader’s failures

  • Couple with other tactics results in moral disengagement


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Counters to granfalloon Dictators

  • Use superordinate identities whenever possible (us humans, God-fearing)

  • Use other’s identity to promote own message (“Islam says;” Khatami, 1998)

  • Don’t reinforce granfalloon boundaries

  • Use jigsaw method to reduce intergroup conflict (Marshall plan)

  • Humanize the out-group/scapegoat (RFE & Jews)

  • Promote multiple, flexible identities


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Projection & innuendo Dictators

  • Projection: blame an enemy for your misdeed

  • Innuendo: false rumor or slur

    • Kim Jong-Il: US is planning to invade the Korean peninsula

    • bin Laden: America is seeking to control Saudi Arabia

  • Do not underestimate the power of these tactics

  • Can be used on internal foes to remove alternatives to the regime


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Counters to projection & innuendo Dictators

  • Damn it, refute it, damn it, replace it

  • Inoculation (if you know it is coming)

  • Stealing thunder (if there is some truth to it)

  • Admit mistakes immediately


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Commitment via rationalization trap Dictators

  • Commitment is created via escalating actions moving from small to increasingly more difficult

    • Attend rally, give money, join group, wear distinctive garb, etc. Viet Cong asked villagers for small favors

  • Changes the nature of thought and action from rational to rationalizing and the true believer


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Counters to commitment trap Dictators

  • Frontal attacks rarely work; creates defensiveness

  • Small hypocrisies

    • Aum leaders eat sushi

    • bin Laden kills Muslims; Muhammad: “To insult a brother-Muslim is sinful, to kill him is unbelief.”

  • Use foot-in-the-door to create commitment to United States interest


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Agenda setting and control Dictators

  • Media discuss only a small set of issues that can favor one side or the other

    • US is out to get our oil

    • Crusade against Islam

    • Should there be an attack in Ramadan?

    • Terrorism as agenda control

  • Works because

    • As long as these are the issues being discussed others cannot be discussed

    • Repetition = Truth & Liking


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Counters to agenda setting Dictators

  • Select a message and stay on message

  • Counter specific criticisms and then get back on message

  • Find ways to get on the media ala a political campaign

  • Develop relationships with foreign reporters


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Censorship & self-censorship Dictators

  • Complete control of the media, arts, education in totalistic regimes (North Korea, Islamist schools)

  • Self-censorship of thought

    • Rote-like chanting of responses to political and other questions

    • Outside thought is from “imperialist” Americans who want to control the world


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Counters to censorship Dictators

  • Create alternative communication channels if need be

  • Find alternative sources for message other than US (exiles, local clerics, friendly regimes)

  • Point out small but important hypocrisies as opposed to frontal attacks

  • Remember: Any dissent is better than no dissent in breaking the censorship spell



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Goals of democratic influence Persuasion

  • Ralph K. White in 1952: “candor, respect for the target of the communication, and assure others that US is not belligerent or domineering”

  • Listen to the other to find out how they think and feel (RFE gathered extensive info on audience)

  • Not just “brand America” (positioning) but relationship marketing – create trust

  • Build self-confidence of target that democracy can be accomplished as a counter to frustration


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Getting attention and building rapport Persuasion

  • Establish physical means of communication

  • Embedded message within communications that attract attention and begin to establish trust

    • Entertaining (RFE’s rock ‘n roll in Hungary)

    • News (RFE’s news about the target country)

    • Advocate for those abused by dictator & demagogue (RFE’s criticism of abusive communists)

    • Provide information, dialog, debate that cannot be obtained elsewhere


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Building trust Persuasion

  • Be perceived as empathetic, warm, and genuine

  • Conspicuous candor – admit mistake as “yes but”

  • Get the target to do a favor for you

  • Agree with the target (when you can)

  • Show liking for the target

  • Don’t seem perfect (pratfall effect)

  • Constant praise loses its effect (gain-loss)

  • Reciprocating self-disclosures

  • Limit perceptions of self-serving motives

  • Don’t lie. Actions = words.


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The altercast Persuasion

  • Altercasting is placing the target in the role needed to produce influence

    • Expert snare & tidy 5th graders

  • Inadvertently place others in negative social roles

    • “We are here to help” (implies dependency)

    • Bully-coward

  • Select role sets that promote positive relationship

    • Friends

    • Democratic citizens


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Self-generated persuasion Persuasion

  • The most effective influence tactic is to have the person persuade him or herself

    • Lewin’s sweetbread study

  • Examples of use

    • Marshall plan had participants come up with own rebuilding plan to obtain grants

    • Ask target to come up with own plan for a common goal with US


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Set expectations for confidence building Persuasion

  • Expectations determine perceptions of success and thus confidence

    • Goebbels and lowering expectations

  • Give people realistic expectations of what can be accomplished and then meet and exceed those expectations


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Create pro-American action involvement Persuasion

  • Find small things that people can do to begin the foot-in-the-door process

    • Exchange programs; help an American

  • Identify small objectives to create self-efficacy

  • Equal status contact with a superordinate goal

    • Jigsaw classroom

    • The Marshall plan


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Goals for democracy Persuasion

  • Co-participation of citizens to discover solutions (not predetermined by elite)

  • System of checks & balances on power

  • Decentralized communication structures

  • Flexible group boundaries

  • Minority opinion encouraged (toleration)

  • Agenda & goals set by citizens

  • Persuasion as debate, discussion, & argument


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