Propaganda, commonly refered to as public relations today, is the dissemination of information aimed at influencing the opinions or behaviour of human beings; either in large numbers or of a select grouping, depending on the intention of the propagandist. The phrase entered the English language in 1718 from Latin and was originally a neutral term used to describe the dissemination of information in favour of any given cause. Since the middle of the 20th century, the term has been associated exclusively with the spreading of lies in favor of an inhumane goal, although the accusation of “propaganda” by politically correct or woke sources is often used to attack and undermine the right to freedom of expression.
While the term propaganda has today acquired a negative connotation, by association with its most manipulative examples, propaganda in its original sense was neutral and could refer to uses that were generally positive, such as public health recommendations, signs encouraging citizens to participate in a census or election, or messages encouraging persons to report crimes to law enforcement. Today, terms such as "public relations" are often preferred.
In its more negative sense, propaganda may be seen as biased, selective, false, encouraging an inappropriate particular synthesis, and/or intended to produce an emotional rather than a rational response. The purpose of a propaganda message may be open and obvious. However, propaganda may also be more subtle and inserted into, for example, popular movies and television series.
One of the oldest recorded propaganda in Europe were lies perpetrated by the Romans about the Celts. They claimed things related to the Celts being uncivilized, though the biggest lie they told was that the druids performed human sacrifice. Some people wonder why the war propaganda of WWII (de) has never been corrected when the war propaganda from over a thousand years ago is still believed.
One of the first propagandists were the Jews who became Christians and spoke directly to people. Converting important people was a chosen technique because they had power and influence. That is why Saint Peter went to Rome, the seat of power at the the time. They spread the Bible but it was a hand written Bible in various languages. The Catholic Church had its headquarters in Rome so the Latin version was supreme. Latin was the language of educated men which meant that the illiterate majority only knew what they were being told. The Church had power over minds exercised through its priests.
In Germany, around 1440, goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg invented the movable-type printing press, which started the Printing Revolution. He introduced the metal movable-type printing press in Europe, along with innovations in casting the type based on a matrix and hand mould. The small number of alphabetic characters needed for European languages was an important factor. Gutenberg was the first to create his type pieces from an alloy of lead, tin, and antimony—and these materials remained standard for 550 years. Martin Luther translated the New Testament from the Greek in 1521-22 AD. This caused major disturbance in Europe and led to the Reformation.
Propaganda can be spread through religion, education, the media and the Internet. Religious leaders claim moral superiority as a reason for putting their positions. Education is prone to be under government control and follow official policy. The media is owned by a small group of people who are suspected of malign intentions. The Internet is a vehicle for the rest of us.
Twentieth Century propaganda
Newspapers started to spread when paper and printing became less expensive and literacy became more common. The Times, one of the oldest was first published in 1785 AD, in England. The first editor was put in prison for libel. Telling people things did not always find favour. Magazines came into being and were not necessarily distinct from newspapers. Modern papers are now daily while magazines are less frequent.
Radio began in 1909 and was sound only. It grew fast and achieved a peak, perhaps in the 1950s around the time that television took over. Television became a mass medium after the Second World War. Early transmitting stations tended be under government control. They were aware that it had the potential to become a major propaganda weapon. Later commercial interests were allowed to transmit and to advertise. The first independent franchises in England were described with disarming candour as a a licence to print money.
The Internet came along and seriously disturbed the status quo in the 1990s. The origin was DARPANET which started in 1969 AD but it took the weight of numbers to get it going.
Propaganda as manipulation
During the 20th Century, however, it became a term of abuse in western countries, because it was seen to mean the intentional dissemination of false, biassed and misleading claims to support or justify political actions or ideologies. This change of view came about because the Soviet Union and Germany's government under Hitler admitted explicitly to using propaganda favouring, respectively, communism and National Socialism.
The leading propagandist in Germany was Willi Münzenberg, a prominent member of the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands or Communist Party of Germany. He was an innovator in the field who gave the world Innocents Clubs full of useful idiots. It has always been understood that advertising is manipulation but it is transparent on the basic point; it is a way of enticing us to give our money.