Recognizing Propaganda Techniques
and Errors of Faulty Logic
What are Propaganda Techniques? They are the methods and approaches
used to spread ideas that further a cause - a political, commercial, religious,
or civil cause.
Why are they used? To manipulate the readers' or viewers' reason and
emotions; to persuade you to believe in something or someone, buy an item, or
vote a certain way.
What are the most commonly used propaganda techniques? See which of
the ten most common types of propaganda techniques you already know.
Name calling: This techniques consists of attaching a negative label
to a person or a thing. People engage in this type of behavior when they are
trying to avoid supporting their own opinion with facts. Rather than explain
what they believe in, they prefer to try to tear their opponent down.
Glittering Generalities: This technique uses important-sounding "glad
words" that have little or no real meaning. These words are used in general
statements that cannot be proved or disproved. Words like "good," "honest,"
"fair," and "best" are examples of "glad" words.
Transfer: In this technique, an attempt is made to transfer the
prestige of a positive symbol to a person or an idea. For example, using the
American flag as a backdrop for a political event makes the implication that the
event is patriotic in the best interest of the U.S.
False Analogy: In this technique, two things that may or may not
really be similar are portrayed as being similar. When examining the comparison,
you must ask yourself how similar the items are. In most false analogies, there
is simply not enough evidence available to support the comparison.
Testimonial: This technique is easy to understand. It is when "big
name" personalities are used to endorse a product. Whenever you see someone
famous endorsing a product, ask yourself how much that person knows about the
product, and what he or she stands to gain by promoting it.
Plain Folks: This technique uses a folksy approach to convince us to
support someone or something. These ads depict people with ordinary looks doing
Card Stacking: This term comes from stacking a deck of cards in your
favor. Card stacking is used to slant a message. Key words or unfavorable
statistics may be omitted in an ad or commercial, leading to a series of
half-truths. Keep in mind that an advertiser is under no obligation "to give the
truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."
Bandwagon: The "bandwagon" approach encourages you to think that
because everyone else is doing something, you should do it too, or you'll be
left out. The technique embodies a "keeping up with the Joneses" philosophy.
Either/or fallacy: This technique is also called "black-and-white
thinking" because only two choices are given. You are either for something or
against it; there is no middle ground or shades of gray. It is used to polarize
issues, and negates all attempts to find a common ground.
Faulty Cause and Effect: This technique suggests that because B
follows A, A must cause B. Remember, just because two events or two sets of data
are related does not necessarily mean that one caused the other to happen. It is
important to evaluate data carefully before jumping to a wrong conclusion.
Errors of Faulty Logic
|Information is presented that is in direct
opposition to other information within the same argument.
Example: If someone stated that schools were overstaffed, then
later argued for the necessity of more counselors, that person would be
guilty of contradiction.
|Someone fails to recognize (or conceals the
fact) that an argument is based on an exception to the rule.
Example: By using selected scholar-athletes as the norm, one could
argue that larger sports programs in schools were vital to improving
academic performance of all students.
|A temporal order of events is confused with
causality; or, someone oversimplifies a complex causal network.
Example: Stating that poor performance in schools is caused by
poverty; poverty certainly contributes to poor academic performance but it
is not the only factor.
Begging the Question:
A person makes a claim then argues for it by
advancing grounds whose meaning is simply equivalent to that of the original
claim. This is also called "circular reasoning."
Example: Someone argues that schools should continue to
have textbooks read from cover to cover because, otherwise, students would not
be well-educated. When asked to define what "well-educated" means, the person
says, "knowing what is in the textbooks."
Evading the Issue:
Someone sidesteps and issue by changing the topic.
Example: When asked to say whether or not the presence
of homosexuals in the army could be a disruptive force, a speaker presents
examples of homosexuals winning combat medals for bravery.
Arguing from Ignorance:
Someone argues that a claim is justified
simply because its opposite cannot be proven.
Example: A person argues that voucher programs will not
harm schools, since no one has ever proven that vouchers have harmed schools.
Composition and Division:
Composition involves an assertion about a
whole that is true of its parts. Division is the opposite: an assertion about
all of the parts that is true about the whole.
Example: When a school system holds up its
above-average scores and claims that its students are superior, it is committing
the fallacy of division. Overall scores may be higher but that does not prove
all students are performing at that level. Likewise, when the military points to
the promiscuous behavior of some homosexuals, it is committing the fallacy of
composition: the behavior of some cannot serve as proof of-the behavior of all
Errors of Attack
Poisoning the Well:
A person is so committed to a position that he/she explains away
absolutely everything others offer in opposition.
Example: Almost every proponent and opponent on the ban on gays in the military
commits this error.
A person rejects a claim on the basis of derogatory facts (real or
alleged) about the person making the claim.
Example: Someone rejects President Clinton's reasons for lifting the ban on gays
in the military because of Mr. Clinton's draft record.
Someone uses threats to establish the validity of the claim.
Example: Opponents of year-round school threaten to keep their children out of
school during the summer months.
Errors of Weak Reference
Appeal to Authority:
Authority is evoked as the last word on an issue.
Example: Someone uses the Bible as the basis for his arguments against specific
school reform issues.
Appeal to the People:
Someone attempts to justify a claim on the basis of popularity.
Example: Opponents of year-round school claim that students would hate it.
Appeal to Emotion:
An emotion-laden "sob" story is used as proof for a claim.
Example: A politician uses a sad story of a child being killed in a drive-by
shooting to gain support for a year-round school measure.
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