Be vigilant. If you see something, say something. The clarion call for heightened alertness relates to terrorism, although another threat also necessitates our constant attention. Propaganda has the potential to invade our collective psyche and cause harm.
Propaganda at best is biased and misleading, and at worst is manipulative and often even subversive.
FOR HISTORICAL AND EXTREME PERSPECTIVE, consider Joseph Goebbels, “Reich Minister of Propaganda” for Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany. His role was to centralize Nazi control of German culture and intellectual life. He was notorious for his persuasive public speaking skills. Also, for his distrust of the free press, which the Nazi regime marginalized with a law requiring journalists to “regulate their work in accordance with National Socialism as a philosophy of life and as a conception of government.” Goebbels’ propaganda machine manufactured extraordinary complicity, which later brought shame to many good people who failed to recognize its powerful influence.
Less nefarious, yet deceitful as well is the misrepresentation of propaganda as public relations. Attempts to hide or repair damage caused by misbehavior show contempt rather than respect for the public interest, the latter of which is the fundamental objective of professional public relations. To be clear, public relations promotes good will; propaganda disguises ill will.
Consider when executives at Uber tried to convince then-CEO and founder Travis Kalanick that the beleaguered company had a serious problem: him. “Kalanick retorted that the company had a public-relations problem, not a cultural one,” according to the expose’ “The Fall of Travis Kalanick” in Bloomberg Businessweek (1-22-18). Unwilling to accept responsibility, Kalanick “demanded a new public-relations strategy” to respond to pervasive internal dysfunction and his own damning publicity.
The very public problems of Uber, as well as those of Facebook, Google and Twitter, come from self-inflicted wounds, i.e. flawed policies, programs and personnel. These companies have substantive issues to fix. Their reprehensible use of propaganda and misuse of public relations to attempt to rebuild their reputations does a disservice to them and the public.
THE GOOD NEWS: Ironically, another key reason the public-relations profession suffers an identity crisis is because its best results are achieved naturally, without deliberate promotion or media outreach. Fortunately, actions speak louder than words; and good news travels far and wide. The challenge for us all is to distinguish between real good news and fake news.