How to Spot Online Propaganda

You can’t believe everything you read—especially online.

As content marketing professionals, this is something we’re uniquely sensitive to. We believe strongly that there’s value in companies providing good, substantive, valuable information as a way to build their brand and establish thought leadership.

And yes, the content marketing model does blur the line between information and advertisement—but it’s only effective if it’s ultimately truthful.

By contrast, a lot of the content out there is outright propaganda—designed to misinform, to mislead, and to obscure the truth.

To be a responsible online citizen, it’s important to know the difference. That’s what we’re going to look at today.

Where You’ll Spot Propaganda

The first thing to be aware of is that propaganda can come from almost any source. Some common examples:

  • Brand/company pages on Facebook. Note that Facebook doesn’t regulate these pages and doesn’t have any standard of transparency or veracity in place. Maybe one day that will change—but for now, public pages are all potential breeding grounds for propaganda.
  • Twitter accounts. We’re mostly thinking of bots here—fake accounts that usually have a highly political slant. Be careful; not every social media user is a real person!
  • A lot of the memes that come across as good-natured and funny are actually made by marketing companies and have an insidious agenda—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is something to be aware of!
  • News items. A lot of the links that look like real news could in fact be—we hate to say it—fake news. You can usually tell by looking at the URL; anything lacking a good, clean URL (like nytimes.com, washingtonpost.com, bbc.com, reuters.com, economist.com etc.) could potentially be a propaganda site.
  • Photo editing tools have become truly advanced and sophisticated—and sadly, you just can’t take every online photo you see seriously.

Steer Clear of Propaganda

That’s just a cross-section of some of the places you’ll find propaganda—and our point really is that you can find it anywhere. So the question is, how can you protect yourself?

Some tips:

  • Be a skeptic. Simply having a discerning mindset, and realizing that what you’re reading could be propaganda, is a good first step.
  • Google around. If you find a news story that seems hard to believe, use Google to look for other sources. If you can’t find them, it may very well be phony. One of the first things taught in journalism school is that all facts in any story should be confirmed by two reliable sources. In today’s day and age, finding two or more sources that share a story’s detail is not overly taxing. Real news stories are picked up by multiple outlets—even if a single platform breaks the story.
  • Avoid interacting with unvetted sources. Liking and commenting on a public page can suck you into the web of propaganda—unless you know the brand in question and trust them.
  • Take reviews with a grain of salt. Online reviews are sometimes fake—and you can usually tell which ones lack credibility. Fake ones won’t be very long or specific.
  • Read widely. Don’t rely on a single platform or website for your news. Try to be a curious and voracious reader.
  • Learn what fake ads look like. It’s helpful to know how you can identify paid content—and there are usually some giveaways. On social networks, as well as on Google, these ads will be labeled as “sponsored.” On Instagram specifically, sponsored posts must carry the hashtag #ad.

The bottom line: it takes some effort and some deliberation to tell which online content you can trust—but it’s worth it to not get snookered by the propaganda machine.

We’d love to tell you more about honest and authentic content creation. Reach out to Grammar Chic, Inc. to learn more! Call 803-831-7444 or visit www.grammarchic.net.

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Filed under Blog Writing, Business Writing, Content Marketing, Content Writing, Social Media, Web Content

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