Propaganda dissected

When following the ongoing presidential election in Venezuela, one comes across so many layers of propaganda that I feel obligated to start structuring it a bit. The traditional division is between white, grey, and black propaganda, but there seems to be some confusion in Wikipedia about how to define them: Sometimes the source is referred to, sometimes the purpose. I have therefore made a two-dimensional classification, adding the colors yellow and blue in the second dimension.

White, grey and black propaganda has here been sub-divided based on target audience, with yellow for self and blue for enemy.

Propaganda can be aimed at giving the enemy the “blues”, why the color for that is blue. The opposite to blue is yellow, boosting morale among the own population or followers. Of course, many messages may reach both groups, and so the impact on both must be considered. The yellow and blue are therefore just pastels over the white, grey, or black. Still, introducing yellow and blue pastels can avoid confusion when the purpose is to refer to the target rather than to the source.

Let me provide an example from Venezuela. An e-mail has been circulating lately claiming that 36 Cuban military personnel are in custody with the immigration authorities in Miami, after escaping from their barracks in Fuerte Tiuna in Caracas, Venezuela, where they were serving in the Cuban Occupation Army. The e-mail goes on to tell about their daily life in Venezuela, and includes much information about how superior the Cuban military is to the Venezuelan, and how Cubans are training Venezuelans in using top-modern Russian military fighter planes.

This is an example of grey-blue or black-blue propaganda. The person talking in the first person singular in the message is not named, which of course is for alleged security reasons, but it is clearly intended to be understood that he is against the regime in Venezuela. However, a closer scrutiny of the content of the message shows that the person who wrote it is not well familiar neither with the immigration centers in Miami (where he alleges that he interviewed the persons), nor with the military situation in Venezuela. The bias is such that one has to conclude that the e-mail was written on Cuba. From this follows that it most likely was written by the Cuban secret security apparatus, G2. It was clearly intended to demoralize the opposition to Chávez (blue propaganda), while not being believed by the supporters of Chávez, the “chaviztas”; or else they figured that they wouldn’t mind so much if they by chance would believe in it.

The last years there have been ample information circulating about Cuban military occupation of Venezuela. In fact, there is a photo of a military base displaying both the Cuban and Venezuelan flags, with the Cuban flag in the honor position. Is it real or photoshopped? Who knows. Perhaps it is real but staged. There are also many photos of the militia with AK47, and they have been seen in parades. But does that mean that they are a functional fighting force? Not necessarily. It may be white-blue propaganda.

There is also a third dimension to propaganda: If the message is true or not. It can be true, it can be an outright lie, or it can be something more or less unknown that is presented with more certainty than it deserves. We could use green for true and red for false, and thus get the whole spectrum, e.g. cyan for truths intended to demoralize the enemy, and purple for falsehoods with the same purpose. In this scheme, lies created to boost the morale of the own population but alleged to come from the enemy will have a combination of black, yellow, and red. What color does that create? You guessed it: Brown. Brown propaganda is very widely used on Cuba by G2.

White, grey and black propaganda has here been sub-divided based on truthfulness, with green for true and red for false.