Is Digital Propaganda All Around Us?

By Ewelina Czapla

Propaganda, communication intended to influence an individual’s or community’s attitude, has arguably existed throughout the entirety of history. Books, pamphlets, posters and paintings have been used to covertly and overtly send political messages intended to manipulate individuals to support one point of view or another. While the “propaganda” often conjures up images of communist sickles and hammers or war campaigns it is also prevalent in stable democratic societies like our own.

In recent decades propaganda has found a new media, the Internet. The Internet has served as a birthplace for many social movements using platforms like Twitter to spread propaganda. For example, the success of the Arab Spring has been attributed to the use of social media which proved so important that government efforts were made to limit access to messages. We are regularly subjected to political campaigns in online advertisements and our inboxes. However, propaganda on the Internet and government response need not be so overt in order achieve shifts in attitude.

Although it can be quite easy to determine if a publication or news network tends to present a biased message it is much more difficult to determine if websites are doing the same. With the breadth of data available for each user it is possible for any company to determine an individuals personal preferences and to tailor that individuals online experience. This tailoring may not necessarily be done to improve the users experience or in the name of marketing but instead to covertly further attitudes that are beneficial to the company’s success. While one of the most fundamental principles attributed to the success of the United States is the free press should the same liberties be granted to private industry? Are we now subject to industry’s propaganda as well as the political worlds? Have they become one in the same? These questions must be addressed as society becomes more integrated in an online world.

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