LEAP 3:  Reflect on Learning about Propaganda

Top 10 Insights on Learning about Propaganda

Harrison Shrair




1. The Research Decline


The first thing that comes to mind then I take a look at our semester in COM 416 was the initial question that we discussed in the first week of class. After reading “A Retrospective on Early Studies of Propaganda and Suggestions for Reviving the Paradigm” “Rebecca M.L. Curnalia (2005)”, we were asked two different questions regarding the study. I decided to answer the question: Why did research in propaganda studies decline after World War II? This is something that I would’ve never been able to answer before taking this class, as well as reading this study on the early studies on propaganda. Even after reading this study I was a little fuzzy on how to answer this question, but once I reviewed what other students said I was able to come to a better conclusion about why propaganda research initially declined after World War II. This was largely because of the massive shift in the scientific interest. The focus shifted from the message sender for much more on the receiving end. The wartime environment around World War II was one where there was tons of propaganda seen daily around the country, but once the war ended the influx of these wartime propaganda posters and things like this started to see a large decline. 


2. Bernays’ Propaganda: The Origins


To further enhance our learning process, instead of just being assigned to read Edward Bernays, Propaganda from 1928, we were assigned to discuss a question in writing on the Pathwright, as well as answer a different question on the asynchronous video platform, Flipgrid. This was a way of learning that I found to be enjoyable, but also very challenging. I know for myself as well as some others, it can be hard to speak in front of people. Even though you record yourself speaking by yourself, it can still be a lot of pressure because you have to restart it if you mess anything up. In participating in these Flipgrid assignments, I found that I started to become more comfortable recording myself talking, and these video assignments started to become more useful to me in regards to dealing with my disinclination to record myself as well as being able to review what other students said about the topic. Being able to see how other students are responding to certain topics can be really beneficial in drawing certain conclusions that can be otherwise challenging. I decided to pick question 3 from the first chapter in Bernays book to answer on the Pathwright discussion board, which was “Bernays points out that that American society is based upon "free competition," rather than relying upon "committees of wise men" to make decisions for the individual. How free is that competition, if it is "organized by leadership and propaganda”? This question was challenging at first to comprehend, but once I broke it down and understood what it was asking, I was able to come to the conclusion that “competition is not very free considering the fact, which Bernays points out, that it is "organized by leadership and propaganda". If the way that you have to behave and act in any given situation is dictated by somebody else, I would argue the point that it isn't truly "free". To be free is to have the option to do exactly what it is that you want, and this "competition" cannot truly be free if it is organized and dictated by leadership as well as being influenced by the propaganda that goes along with it.”(https://mediaeducationlab.pathwright.com/library/com-416-propaganda/85209/path/step/53047193/discussion/126478/


3. Memes…. In Class!?


For week 3 in COM 416, the first Pathwright activity really stood out to me given how relevant it is for most of the people in our class. Our class was made up of mostly people born in 1990 or after, so being assigned to annotate a meme was something that I think we could all definitely get on board with. This is something that is really important for being able to critically analyze propaganda, since memes are actually just modern day propaganda posters. The fact that we were able to look at different memes as propaganda posters was super eye opening to how important taking this course is. The information that we learned was incredibly relevant and it helped me understand so much more about how the media comes into play with the current political environment in the United States, as well as the rest of the world. These memes are super effective in getting messages out, and sometimes they can be used for negative means, which some of us were able to be assigned to annotate and analyze. My team and I were assigned to analyze a meme about separating illegal child immigrants from their families. As you can see, this meme was drawn all over and annotated by us to help critically analyze it. This picture links to the Kami site where we made all of our annotations, and like I said before, I think that giving more relevant assignments like this can keep a class interested as well as providing necessary information.


4. A Top 10 list…. on a Top Ten List?!?















This list of the ten divisions for propaganda analysis was another learning activity on the Pathwright that I chose to complete, which was one of the most beneficial activities that I found throughout the semester. We were assigned to read Chapter 6 of How to Analyze Propaganda from Propaganda and Persuasion 5th Edition by Garth Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell. After we read this chapter we took to Flipgrid to explain one of the ten steps from this list of the 10 divisions for propaganda analysis, and I decided to choose the second step - The context in which the propaganda occurs. Along with explaining one of the steps that we chose, we were tasked with choosing an example from our own life that this applies to, which I found to be really interesting and super beneficial to our conquest of knowledge about propaganda, and especially helpful with analyzing propaganda. Like the other Flipgrid assignments in this class, I found it to be really cool as well as really helpful in understanding how other people feel about the questions being asked, which is nice to be able to compare to my own thoughts. 




One of the most commonly seen phrases on my favorite social media site, Twitter, happens to come from our president, Donald Trump most of the time. Trump likes to misuse this phrase all of the time when referring to the news, which happens to be credible sources most of the time. It says a lot about our country that we let someone as foolish as this man to lead us, and it is even worse that our president takes to Twitter to complain about these organizations, which again, are mostly credible. We spent Week 4 of COM 416 learning about fake news, disinformation and conspiracy theories, which I found to be incredibly interesting. There were so many beneficial tips from various articles on things like, solving the problem of fake news, explaining disinformation and identifying conspiracy theories as a Russian diplomacy tool. Along with these articles, there was an assignment to explain one of these on the Flipgrid, which I didn’t take part in, but that is okay because we got to choose the most meaningful activities which I thought was one of the best and beneficial things about taking this course. Instead of doing my own Flipgrid about it, I decided to complete a different activity where we responded to a past COM 416 student’s video entry about conspiracy theories. I found this to be really cool since it was former students in this class that were answering the same questions that were assigned to us.


6. PLAY THE GAME! Bad News


While this activity was also in Week 4, like the previous activity on the list, this was also super meaningful to me when I think back about what we’ve learned and how we’ve learned it in COM 416, Propaganda. There were a lot of interactive Pathwright activities that we were able to complete, which is really beneficial to me, as well as a lot of other students since I am more of a hands-on type of learner. Being able to learn while doing something like playing a game is awesome to me since the repetition of it will help the take-away messages to stay engrained in my mind. This specific activity was a game called bad news, where we take on the role of someone similar to how a troll would act. The description of the game reads: “Drop all pretense of ethics and choose the path that builds your persona as an unscrupulous media magnate. But keep an eye on your ‘followers’ and ‘credibility’ meters.”. The goal was to get as many followers as we could while building fake credibility since we are not a real news organization. The way that our decisions were taken into account in real-time, was amazing to me. The game responded to the choices that I made, which made it all that more interesting to learn about how people can get away with things like this. https://getbadnews.com/#intro.


7. Instagram isn’t as real as it may seem


One of the reasons that I found this class to be as enjoyable as I did was because of how relevant all of the information is to our current social media environment in our country. As a communications major, I am always fascinated by how social media can have such large effects on specific people, and learning about sites like Twitter and Instagram, which I use daily can be really interesting. I never really understood about how people on Instagram get sponsored but after reading the article provided in Week 5 of COM 416 as well as the YouTube video created by Rules for Rebels, who is a social media marketing guy. This Video and Article offered tons of helpful information about how rising stars on Instagram post fake sponsored content to seem like they have more credibility, which was something that I never even considered that people would do. Having “street cred” is something that is majorly important on social media sites, especially when trying to get recognized or sponsored by more, larger companies. It blows my mind that people actually fake having sponsors to get recognized, but it’s even more mind-blowing that it actually can work. This was a major realization that I re-discovered after doing some personal reflection on which activities were the most meaningful to me in this class. 




Week 6 of COM 416 was all about virality and how easily things can blow up on the internet and spread globally. One of the most meaningful activities from this week on the Pathwright for me was reading an article from wired about the problem with the #MeToo movement and viral outrage regarding it. This was a headline that immediately caught me eye because I usually don’t associate the #MeToo movement with having a lot of problems with it, but I was able to see a different point of view about this incredibly large and important movement. While reading this was super beneficial to learning about propaganda for me, the more important part of this assignment for me was the second part. The second part of the assignment was to compose two tweets about this article, where one of which summarized key ideas from the reading and the other tweet offers my own interpretation and opinion of the issues explored. “It harnesses social media’s mechanisms to drive users (that’s you and me) into escalating states of outrage while exhausting us to the point where we cannot meaningfully act.”. This quote from the article was able to help me understand even more why this can be a problem, and tweeting about it only further advanced my understanding of it as well as letting me have the opportunity to reflect on what we’ve learned, which is super important for my learning style.




9.  They Say, I Say


Week 8, computational propaganda was all about different types of propaganda found online, and one of the things that was covered was another very relevant topic to college students like myself. I learned about lots of different things and also my classmates’ viewpoints on these topics through a very interesting collaborative slide deck activity on google slides. Everybody in our class that participated in this activity were tasked with reading one of the provided articles, for me I chose Tinder nightmares, because the title immediately drew me in, which was such a large theme throughout COM 416. We learned so much about how important it is to have a catchy title to be able to draw viewers in, so when I saw this title I knew it would be interesting as well as relevant in my pursuit to learn more about propaganda. I personally have used Tinder in my past, so reading all about there are now political bots on Tinder that interact with people was so interesting to me. I decided to choose this to analyze in my slide on this collaborative slide deck, and I think being able to compare how other people analyzed this article as well as the other ones, was super beneficial to learning about computational propaganda. 


10. Propaganda of the Deed: TERRORISM


While I identified 9 other ways that our online class has helped me to learn about propaganda, as well as how we learned about it and why it matters, I saved one of the most interesting, and honestly frightening aspects of propaganda for last. The 10th week of our class had us delving into the world of propaganda in relation to terrorism and how common it is that it is used in recruiting people to join terrorist organizations like ISIS. There were a lot of different activities to choose from in week 10, but one of the most beneficial and interesting things to read about to help further my understanding of this topic was a video about how social media is being weaponized by ISIS as well as an article about war going viral that we collaboratively digitally annotated. Participating in an activity where we go through an article or reading and offer our opinions but we can also see what other people have to say about it, is incredibly helpful to my learning style, especially in an online class. I really think that working with other people to compare and contrast opinions about things like this can be so beneficial to helping people learn about specific topics, which is why I found this activity to be so helpful and interesting. It is terrifying to me that terror organizations use sites like Twitter and YouTube to recruit people, and learning about this in the way that we did was incredibly beneficial. 



Works Cited: 


  • R. Curnalia (2005) A Retrospective on Early Studies of Propaganda and Suggestions for Reviving the Paradigm. The Review of Communication, 5:4, 237-257,











Screen Shot 2019-05-01 at 3.46.00 PM.png
Screen Shot 2019-05-01 at 1.55.38 PM.png
Screen Shot 2019-05-01 at 2.42.44 PM.png
Screen Shot 2019-05-01 at 3.37.51 PM.png