Propaganda is everywhere and like death and taxes, is unavoidable. It is the leviathan that informs us of the goings on in our world and is the principal force in influencing our thoughts, beliefs and behaviour. While in recent decades the term has become associated with manipulation, historically it has been a descriptively neutral term. In an ever more globalising and technological world, people have become more connected to propaganda in a variety of ways. Whether this is through instant access to the news on your smartphone or through browsing your social media accounts. Propaganda is relentlessly being streamed into your mind and conveying its message to you.

It is a tool used by a diverse range of actors, such as activist groups, governments, religious groups and the media who all have different sets of agendas. It is used by companies to convince us that their products are the ones we need to buy, and is beamed to us through television and radio adverts. It is conveyed to us on massive billboards that litter our towns and cities. Politicians make use of propaganda to win our hearts and minds over certain issues, the best contemporary evidence of how propaganda has been used by politicians include its use to sway the Brexit vote in favour of the leave campaign and how Donald Trump used it so effectively to convince the people of the US that he was the one to “make America great again.”

Propaganda is a dangerous leviathan if left unchecked. All too often I find myself scrolling through my Facebook feed to find articles and news items coming to rapid and often blown out of proportion conclusions about certain issues. Why do I think this is an important issue? All too many times throughout history we have seen great tragedies occur due to incomprehension on a societal level over the dangers of blindly believing propaganda.

Joseph Goebbels – the Nazi minister for propaganda

The most prevalent example of this in recent history is how the Nazi Party used propaganda throughout the 1930s & 1940s to force people into subscribing to their twisted worldview. Nazi propaganda demonised the enemies of Nazism, especially Jews and the communists but also intellectuals and capitalists. With the outbreak of war in September 1939 propaganda rallied the people of Germany and encouraged their participation in a total war. This state propaganda combined with the prohibition of any foreign media or messages that whistled a different tune to Nazism is what kept the masses in full support of the cult of Hitler and his regime until its collapse in May 1945.

There are many reasons why the people of Germany embraced Nazism and its message, though I believe that had they been allowed to understand the importance of critical analysis of propaganda and had been able to discern what was accurate from what was falsehood, perhaps the support for the horrors of Nazism and all it stood for might have been avoided.

We (especially those of us in the UK) are fortunate to be living in a time and in a place where we are allowed to discern the fiction from the truth. In an age where “fake news” is rife and politics is becoming ever more divided, it is important to remember the individual is still a free thinker and that one should always look behind the headlines and beyond the substance of the story in order to gauge a comprehensive and impartial view. Through ignorance of this, we forget the threat that is posed to our values and our way of life and how easily they can be stripped from us by those seeking to undermine the status quo.

The next time you’re scrolling through Facebook and you see an item that seems dubious in content, whether it comes from the left or the right, take the time to consider whether it is an accurate depiction of the world and don’t allow the power of propaganda to cloud your own thoughts and judgement.