Propaganda, fake news, and misinformation are not just social science topics. Our security research deals with so-called computational propaganda. In addition to politics, algorithms and automation are increasingly entering communication. Learn how they are being exploited.

Defining propaganda is difficult. Its definition changed and adapted over time, and different versions of propaganda are used by different countries and societies. The style of propaganda even depends on the cultural beliefs of those countries, since they may be based on different scientific bases.

Instead of trying to define propaganda, we can try to see its high-level characteristics in a social space. Propaganda may be seen as a way of controlling social doctrine, as a way of maintaining social beliefs with multiple persuasion tactics. The three main characteristics that are usually recognized in propaganda are:

  • It is deliberately made to manipulate certain ideas.
  • It presents only one view as the absolute truth.
  • It uses psychological manipulation and convinces its audience that the propaganda’s aim and their own desires are one and the same.

In order to improve the detection of propaganda with future algorithms, we can attempt to do an operational definition that help us understand how the information is being distributed and planned, and which are the patterns behind the creation of propaganda.

Moreover, propaganda may include other tools, such as fake news, rumours, disinformation, etc. Propaganda looks like a coordinated effort, that may use different techniques and ways of spreading. In the last few years, the phenomenon of fake news grew in importance. But fake news is not propaganda. Fake news is a tool serving multiple purposes, and propaganda is only one of those.

Fake news are not propaganda. It is a tool serving multiple purposes with propaganda being only one of those.

To find out which characteristics we identified as propaganda-like to distinguish a text from non-propaganda news, follow our blog series in which we introduce the project in more depth.