30 January 2020
30 January 2020

When presented with a statement, we suspect it to be a lie and our instinct is to fact check it from various resources. If we do find out the statement to be a lie, we get angry and demand answers. Politicians lie all the time. But their supporters don’t seem to be phased at all. In fact, politicians being known liars are the bud of many jokes. It is almost as if we “expect” them to lie. It’s like we are trapped in the worst nightmare of George Orwell, whose greatest warning to humanity 1984 is being used as an instruction manual by politicians worldwide. 

There are two ingredients to a good lie. First, the lie has to be believable. Second, the lie must not be found out. That’s why politicians in the past, went to great lengths to hide their dirty laundry. In the last decade, however, politicians tell lies that are quite obvious and can be refuted with a simple Google check. What’s more interesting is that when they are called out for lying, they usually don’t budge. They blame the media, the opposition, the victims and it seems that they have no shame for getting caught. It is extremely frustrating and all of a sudden we find ourselves talking about concepts like “fake news” and “post-truth”. 

Joseph Goebbels: The Maestro of Propaganda

One would think this propaganda technique is a plague of the modern era. However, the implementation of lies to politics in a structured form is a bit older than that. Like most atrocities in the world, it comes from a low point in human history. In this case, Nazi Germany and more specifically, a man called Joseph Goebbels. 

Joseph Goebbels, the Propaganda Minister of Nazi Germany, is famous for using lies in a structured form to manipulate masses. And he was quite successful at it: The German nation thought they were absolutely nailing the war until the Russians showed up at their doorstep. Goebbels was so confident that he would even blurt out aphorisms about lying. Some of these aphorisms are key to understanding how lie-based propaganda works. 

  • Tell a lie, someone will believe it. 
  • If you tell something constantly, the public will forget where it came from and adopt it as their own. 
  • The public will believe bigger lies compared to smaller ones. 
  • When at fault, never admit it. 
  • Instead of defending yourself have your opposition defend themselves

So you see, humanity has figured out how to manipulate masses by lying a long time ago. What changed between now and then is the nature of the lies. Before, governing bodies had either had to tell believable lies and cover their tracks or force the public into closed societies to keep them under control. Nowadays politicians don’t do either, they tell very obvious lies to masses who relatively have free will. So the main idea is there but they fine tuned it, if you will. 

The Firehose of Falsehood

In 2016, The Rand Corporation released a report called The Russian “Firehose of Falsehood” Propaganda Model. Authors of the paper Christopher Paul and Miriam Matthews state the propaganda model has four key elements. The lies have to be, 

  • High volume and multichannel
  • Rapid, continuous and repetitive
  • Lacks commitment to objective reality
  • Lacks commitment to consistency

In other words, the shamelessness and obviousness of the lies are kind of the point. And the more you tell them, the better. 

When you tell a lie about a political statement, you do one thing. You strip truth of its power. This is why lying is the best political propaganda tool there is. All of a sudden, the truth doesn’t have its attributed power and is reduced to mere opinion. Whoever has the power can also present their opinion as truth. What that means is defending your truth becomes about picking sides – something politicians desperately need. 

When you keep telling the lie, no matter how ridiculous it might be, it just becomes a thing. It gets repeated on media and people talk about it even if they are talking about it being untrue. The more obvious the lie is, the more enraged people become, the more time it gets on media and you end up controlling the agenda – another thing politicians desperately need.   

Most people will say that honesty and credibility are a must – have when it comes to human relations. However, when it comes to deciding really important things like voting, political view, and supporting politicians, they lack the same attitude. They just want to get on the winner train. They want their truth to rule the day and get quite fanatical about it, too. Even when they know they are being lied to, they keep supporting their truth which now equates to their choice of a political candidate. 

How To Counter the Firehose of Falsehood

The question begs: How do we deal with the Firehose of Falsehood then? The writers who coined the term state that most counter-propaganda techniques that are available to us are futile against the propaganda model. They suggest an effective tool can be found with the help of psychology. At the end of their article, they give a warning that whoever wishes to counter Firehose of Falsehood must first understand it is not a trivial task. 

In my humble opinion, the answer lies with the man who started it all. When Berlin fell, most high ranking Nazi officers tried to flee. Joseph Goebbels, on the other hand, killed himself, his wife and their six children because there was no point in living in a world not dominated by the Nazis. That was his last and greatest lie. Because that time, he lied even to himself. He was in fact, so infatuated with his own creation that he could not comprehend its doom. His truth, like all truth, didn’t come from a place of logic or facts. It came from what it made him “feel”.  

Truth is a fragile thing because it is not objective, nor it’s ever been. Our perception of it has the ability to give or take power from it. To counter the Firehose of Falsehood, we must fix what it broke. We must give truth its power back and by extension the people who perceive it. This is the vital point that is overlooked by the opposition in every country who has to deal with lie-based propaganda methods. They think, if people are following leader X, then they can follow leader Y, it’s just a matter of convincing them. There is nothing more heartbreaking and humiliating than trying to convince someone with obvious facts. We have to rise above this mentality. We must teach people how to process information and how to empower themselves without being a part of the winning team. 

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State. – Joseph Goebbels”


Ezgi Çetin

1990 Ankara doğumluyum. Eğitimimi Ankara Atatürk Anadolu Lisesi ve ODTÜ Siyaset Bilimi ve Kamu Yönetimi bölümünde tamamladım. Hayattaki tutkumu üreten insanları teknoloji marifetiyle desteklemekte ve hak ettiklere yere gelmelerine yardımcı olmakta buldum. Bu yüzden bilişim sektöründe çalışıyorum ve internetin özgürlüğüne inanıyorum.

1 Comment

  1. Andrew Fidge says:

    A very interesting take on propoganda. I think in many cases propoganda is successful because it taps into a level of self-interest in the target audience as well.

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