Countering Propaganda: Words Matter, Their Definitions Matter Even More

by | Nov 24, 2023 | Opinions & Commentary

Photo by Romain Vignes

Countering Propaganda: Words Matter, Their Definitions Matter Even More

by | Nov 24, 2023 | Opinions & Commentary

Photo by Romain Vignes

One of the chief tools of propaganda operators is superimposing new definitions of common words used in society. It is diabolically simple. But it just as easy to counter.

Propagandists are hackers of society. In the same way that a hacker gains access to the backend of a website to plant rogue malware designed to hijack that site for other purposes, propagandists do the same with society.

So what is the “code” that propagandists hack to gain such access? We can sagely say “social media” and be looking in the right direction. Close, but that’s not “code level” for society. Social media is a communication system, a carrier of messages, not the code itself.

Another factor is emotions. These are tools used by the propagandist for purposes of manipulation. Get people angry or scared enough and you can get them to make bad decisions. This is true, but it also isn’t the code.

The Code

What are we talking about here? It is actually what we are talking with: words and their meanings.

The code that propagandists are corrupting to manipulate segments of society is the meanings of words themselves.

Here is an example. Let’s look at the definition of liberal. Here is how Oxford Languages defines this word:

  1. willing to respect or accept behavior or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas.
  2. relating to or denoting a political and social philosophy that promotes individual rights, civil liberties, democracy, and free enterprise.

But under the constant onslaught of propagandists over the past decades, many in our world think that liberaI means “communist,” and “everybody knows” communists are evil must be excluded from society.

Here’s how this works. A false definition is used for a common word describing people who care about the opinions of others and their rights and freedom to prosper. That definition makes people who have those ideas—ideas that benefit any society—appear evil in the eyes of those who accepted the fake definition. Thus the propagandist has achieved a goal: division. All by the injection of a false definition. And where does this division lead, nowhere good.

Other examples of redefined words from history—and present day—give us a clue where this leads:

Redefining groups of people as vermin to be eradicated has cropped up again today in the divisive rhetoric of one presidential candidate. It was used decade ago by another who took over his country and used it to kill millions of his own people and causing the destruction of most of Europe to finally stop him.

Describing people of one ethnic group as cockroaches and subhuman fueled an orgy of murder in the Rwandan genocide.

Leipzig Psychology professor Wilhelm Wundt redefined “man” as an animal, paving the way for the mass killing of these “animals” by Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany in his prosecution of what we now call World War I.

Yes, There Is Evil

One of the hardest things to confront is evil and the fact that it exists. But evil has to be confronted to make it possible to overcome it. Understanding the tools used by evil people is part of that process. One of the key tools used against society today is the propaganda technique of redefining words used in society to create division, hatred, violence and even genocide.

Vladimir Putin is a master of this technique. He redefined the entire society of Ukraine as Nazi to justify his invasion of and attempt to erase that sovereign nation—ignoring the fact that Ukraine’s president is Jewish.

Understanding how the generation of hate and division is accomplished enables one to first recognize it and then cease to be the effect of it. It is empowering to know precisely when one is being lied to. And that recognition simultaneously de-fangs the liar.

Confronting evil people who seem to be omnipotent seems hard to do, and it is. But it becomes much easier when you understand their tools. And messing with the code of the operating system of society is a big one.

A Short List of Problems Created by Propagandists

There is a common joke out there that Universal Healthcare is so complicated that only 32 of the 33 industrialized countries have figured it out. Of course the United States is the only outlier. Why? Propaganda branding the idea as “communist” is one of the key reasons and has been used since Harry Truman attempted to implement Universal Healthcare in 1947.

Liberals as “communists” was of course an element of what caused the January 6th Insurrection and continues today as a campaign theme of the perpetrators.

“Trickle-down economics” is a financial theory entirely manufactured by propagandists and sold to the country by an actor. It has destroyed the middle class over the past decades and still causes people to vote against against their own interests—happily sending money up the food chain where it remains stuck and out of circulation.

You can observe and see many examples of this when you look at our current situation through this lens.


Dictionaries are our friends. So many great dictionaries are now available from our ubiquitous pocket super computers. There is no reason all of us can’t be looking up words all the time. That is the way to keep the code of society cleaned up and disable the hackers who attack it.

The philosopher Will Durant said,

“If you wish to converse with me,” said Voltaire, “define your terms.” How many a debate would have been deflated into a paragraph if the disputants had dared to define their terms! This is the alpha and omega of logic, the heart and soul of it, that every important term in serious discourse shall be subjected to strictest scrutiny and definition. It is difficult, and ruthlessly tests the mind; but once done it is half of any task.”

Words, and definitions, to live by.

Marty Kassowitz

Marty Kassowitz

Marty Kassowitz is co-founder of Factkeepers. As founder of Interest Factory and View360, he brings more than 30 years experience in effective online communications, social media management, and platform development to the site. He is a writer, designer, editor and long time observer of the ill-logic demonstrated by too many members of the species known as Mankind. After a long history of somewhat private commentary on a subject he totally hates: politics, Marty was encouraged to build this site and put up his own analyses as well as curate relevant content from other sources.

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