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Propaganda is a bigger danger now than in the Second World War, according to new book

A new book co-edited by an academic from Queen Mary University of London tells a radical new story about propaganda, fake news and information warfare and their toxic impact on the communications revolution of the past twenty years.

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At a time when arguments about political campaigns are about to peak in the UK ahead of the 2019 general election, the book re-writes the theory and practice of propaganda and brings these concepts to life through a range of lucid, original case studies.

The SAGE Handbook of Propaganda, the first book of its kind, sheds a harsh new light on many current forms and processes ranging from Islamist and Far Right, troll farms and fake news institutes, to the more salient everyday manipulative practices of corporations and brands as well as political parties.

Changing technologies, changing communications

The world of information sharing has changed. With rapid developments in technology and communications, this work claims that the topic of propaganda is more relevant today than it ever was and saturates discourse to the extent that it has become a toxic threat to democracy itself.

What is new, according to the editors, is the power of the new tools that project vivid imagery to a global audience, and the sheer volume and speed at which propaganda is now disseminated: for example, one quarter of a billion people in India have access to WhatsApp.

Mapping propaganda across the world

Whilst previous publications have focused on specific (and Euro-centric) case studies, there has not been, until now, an attempt to map the topic comprehensively, across multiple geographies and across multiple themes, especially taking into account Islamist and Far Right propaganda.

Chapters include a mixture of historical as well as contemporary case studies, ranging from the Cold War in Greece in the 1940s to right-wing propaganda during the 2016 EU referendum. The work also adds more nuanced perspectives such as how Daesh used propaganda to specifically target and lure female supporters.

The work offers new perspectives on the classic tools of incitement including that of disinformation. Through numerous pan-global case studies extending from North Korea to the United Kingdom, the authors argue that propaganda’s effectiveness is not because people are naïve but because they have an urgent wish to believe in the stories they are being sold, the fantasies and fictions.

The resurrection of propaganda

Professor Nicholas O’Shaughnessy, Professor of Communications at Queen Mary University of London and co-editor of the volume, said: “There has been a kind of steroidal resurrection of propaganda, everything from Russian troll farms to the Trump phenomenon to Isis, and it is affecting just about everything. Anyone in an attic with a laptop can now create a fib factory that services the market for conspiracies. Today more than ever before the aphorism that ‘a lie can travel halfway round the world while truth is tying up its shoelaces’ (Mark Twain) has become our truth.

“This book incorporates all of that and re-writes the script on propaganda at a time when it is imperative to do so. It re-imagines the idea and idiom of propaganda given what has been really a revolution over the past five years, which has seen the rise of ethno-nationalism, the plague of disinformation, the echo chamber of social media and the contamination of the US Presidential election.”

Professor Paul Baines, Professor of Political Marketing at the University of Leicester said: “This comprehensive text represents the first time anyone has ever written a comprehensive and global overview of contemporary and historical propaganda in handbook form.

“This book represents a more mature and scholarly understanding of how propaganda functions, how it can be fought, and how its effectiveness can be measured in a variety of diverse contexts. Designed for government and academic researchers alike, it brings knowledge of propaganda right up to date.”

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