A few weeks ago, the Economist provided an interesting take on social media, the Arab Spring, and the Reformation era. The article, How Luther Went Viral, claims that centuries before Facebook and the Arab Spring, social media helped bring about the Reformation era. Led by Martin Luther, the Reformation was a period of religious revolt that led to the division of Western Christianity and the start of Protestantism. The developments of this period were propelled by the advent of the printing press, which the article describes in rich detail. But it begins by making an interesting claim about how Luther and his allies promoted the message of religious reform with the social media of their day—pamphlets, ballads and woodcuts. So basically, the central argument of the piece states that what happened in the Arab Spring is what happened in the Reformation era: a new form of media provided the opponents of an authoritarian regime an opportunity to voice their concerns, affirm their discontent, and mobilize their actions.
“Our definition of propaganda focuses on the communication process – most specifically, on the purpose of the process: Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.”
“To identify a message as propaganda is to suggest something negative and dishonest. Words frequently used as synonyms for propaganda are lies, distortion, deceit, manipulation, mind control psychological warfare, brainwashing, and palaver. A term implying propaganda that has recently gained popularity is spin, referring to a coordinated strategy to minimize negative information and present in a favorable light a story that could be damaging.”
Garth S. Jowett Victoria O’Donnell in Propaganda and Persuasion, 1999, p. 3 and p. 6.