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Propaganda Goes Viral: Should Government Have Access to Social Media?

​Propaganda is a persuasive technique that has been utilized by governments and people in power through the ages. In order to gain support for a cause or ideology, leaders have, throughout history, have littered their countries with motivational and stirring content. During the American Revolution, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense listed the reasons for separating from the British Empire. During WWI, leaflets were dropped from airplanes listing reasons to join the war effort. The infamously blood-curdling propaganda campaigns of the Third Reich during WWII remain in many of our hearts and minds to this day. In the heat of the Cold War, public service “duck and cover” films displayed children hiding under their desks and depicted the havoc of a nuclear bomb. Imagine what Thomas Paine could have done with Twitter.

Propaganda is a persuasive technique that has been utilized by governments and people in power through the ages. In order to gain support for a cause or ideology, leaders have, throughout history, have littered their countries with motivational and stirring content. During the American Revolution, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense listed the reasons for separating from the British Empire. During WWI, leaflets were dropped from airplanes listing reasons to join the war effort. The infamously blood-curdling propaganda campaigns of the Third Reich during WWII remain in many of our hearts and minds to this day. In the heat of the Cold War, public service “duck and cover” films displayed children hiding under their desks and depicted the havoc of a nuclear bomb. Imagine what Thomas Paine could have done with Twitter.

Fast forward to today. It’s amazing to see how social media has catalyzed the evolution of propaganda techniques. North Korea’s recent YouTube video played dramatic background music while a charismatic narrator preached nuclear war. The video centers on North Korea’s missile launches and uses very weak special effects to demonstrate the White House being targeted. The images are very cheesy, looking like they were put together by the same crack team that engineers the special effects for Power Rangers. Now, there is word that the Communist country is pointing missiles at American locations in the Pacific region.

If the intention of the creators was to present North Korea as a legitimate threat, their efforts are noticed, but taken lightly. But the fact that the video has accumulated over 700,000 views is still an eye-opening statistic. Is this use of social media the beginning of pre-war propaganda? Does this video project that something that is still to come — or is it just a scare tactic and a flex of digital muscles?

As countries pursue different recruiting tools and propaganda techniques, the real question is: Should those governments have access to social media? There are nations across the world that have restricted and banned social media, while other governments monitor digital social activity 24/7. Google will smite online marketing companies for their poor execution of social media strategy, so, why not government?

Not too long ago, our own government tried to enact SOPA and PIPA in an effort to censor us. As more government influence is invested in social media, it will be interesting to see how propaganda continues to evolve and see what social media agencies will be able to develop. North Korea’s efforts were somewhat of an adolescent approach. However, it will be fascinating to see how companies like Twitter and Facebook play a role in the history books. Do we need Uncle Sam on Instagram?

UPDATE: On Friday, after American forces flew two nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers across South Korean airspace, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered missiles to be aimed at striking locations in the U.S. and South Korea. Jong-un’s highly publicized announcement of alleged plans to execute a military strike against the U.S. have been considered a largely psychological ploy by American media and military experts. The New York Times reports:

“The United States is fully capable of defending itself and our allies,” said Lt. Col. Catherine Wilkinson, a Pentagon spokeswoman in Washington. “North Korea’s bellicose rhetoric and threats follow a pattern designed to raise tensions and intimidate others.”

Is this more propaganda? Is the young leader trying to build credibility and stay relevant?

Hours after Mr. Kim’s call to arms, thousands of North Koreans turned out for a 90-minute mass rally at the main square in Pyongyang, chanting “Death to the U.S. imperialists” and “Sweep away the U.S. aggressors,” according to The Associated Press, which has a bureau in Pyongyang. Soldiers and students marched through downtown Pyongyang.

Keep watching the fishbat blog for updates on this ongoing story.