Waves of Deception: The Transformation of Propaganda from Radio and Cinema to Digital.


Radio and cinema have historically been important tools for propaganda dissemination. During World War II, radio broadcasts were used extensively by both the Axis and Allied powers to spread propaganda messages to their populations and to enemy territories (Taylor, 1998). Similarly, cinema has also been used as a tool for propaganda dissemination, particularly during the Cold War. In more recent times, the rise of the internet and social media has led to a shift in the way propaganda is disseminated. This essay will explore the evolution of propaganda dissemination from radio and cinema to the internet, providing examples of initiatives and specific works in each medium.

Radio Propaganda

World War II saw the extensive use of radio broadcasts as a means of disseminating propaganda. The Nazi regime, for example, used radio to spread anti-Semitic propaganda and to incite hatred towards Jews (Herf, 2006). Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda, understood the power of radio in shaping public opinion and used it to create a “Volksempfänger” (people’s receiver) that was affordable for the average German citizen (Funk, 2010). This enabled the Nazi regime to reach a wide audience and disseminate its propaganda effectively.

The British and American governments also used radio to promote their own war efforts and to discredit the enemy. The BBC, for instance, broadcasted a mix of news, entertainment, and propaganda to both domestic and foreign audiences (Nicholas, 1996). The British government also established the Political Warfare Executive (PWE), which conducted psychological warfare against enemy countries, including the use of radio broadcasts (Balfour, 2010).

Cinema Propaganda

During the Cold War, cinema became another important tool for propaganda dissemination. The US government funded films that promoted American values and ideologies, such as democracy and capitalism, while discrediting communism and socialist regimes (Shaw, 2007). These films, collectively known as “Hollywood propaganda,” were intended to promote a positive image of the United States and to convince foreign audiences of the superiority of American values and systems (Kellner, 1992). Examples of such films include “Red Nightmare” (1962), which portrayed the dangers of communism, and “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951), which showcased American moral superiority.

The Soviet Union also used cinema as a propaganda tool, producing films that glorified the communist regime and its achievements while denouncing capitalism and Western values (Youngblood, 1991). Films such as “The Fall of Berlin” (1950) and “Battleship Potemkin” (1925) are classic examples of Soviet propaganda cinema.

Internet and Social Media Propaganda

The rise of the internet and social media has fundamentally changed the way propaganda is disseminated. Instead of relying solely on traditional media outlets like radio and cinema, governments and organizations can now reach a global audience with targeted messaging through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube (Woolley & Howard, 2016). This has made it easier for governments and organizations to spread their messages and to manipulate public opinion on a global scale (Bradshaw & Howard, 2018).

For example, the US government has used social media to promote its values and policies to foreign audiences. The State Department’s Digital Outreach Team uses social media platforms to engage with foreign audiences and to promote American values such as democracy, human rights, and the rule of law (Hayden, 2012). The team also works to counter disinformation and propaganda from foreign actors, such as Russia and China (Pamment, 2018).

However, the use of social media as a propaganda tool is not limited to the United States. Other governments and organizations have also adopted this approach. Russia, for example, has been accused of using social media platforms to disseminate disinformation and propaganda, particularly during the 2016 US presidential election (Jamieson, 2018). Furthermore, terrorist organizations like ISIS have exploited social media platforms to spread their extremist ideologies and recruit followers (Berger, 2015).

The proliferation of propaganda on social media has led to concerns about the impact of these platforms on democratic processes and the quality of public discourse. Some critics argue that social media has created echo chambers where users are exposed only to information that confirms their preexisting beliefs, thereby reinforcing polarized opinions and limiting exposure to alternative perspectives (Sunstein, 2018).

The Emergence of WikiLeaks and Other Websites as Propaganda Platforms

In recent years, websites like WikiLeaks have emerged as powerful platforms for disseminating information that can be used for propaganda purposes. Founded by Julian Assange in 2006, WikiLeaks is an international non-profit organization that publishes classified, censored, or otherwise restricted official materials involving war, spying, and corruption (Greenberg, 2010). By making these documents available to the public, WikiLeaks has challenged the traditional mechanisms of state power and control over information.

The impact of WikiLeaks on propaganda can be analyzed from two perspectives: as a tool for disseminating information that exposes the misdeeds of governments and organizations, and as a potential tool for foreign actors to manipulate public opinion by selectively releasing information.

As a Tool for Exposing Misdeeds

One of the most significant contributions of WikiLeaks to propaganda is its ability to expose government and corporate secrets, potentially undermining their credibility and public image. For example, the release of the “Collateral Murder” video in 2010, which showed US military personnel killing civilians in Iraq, sparked global outrage and intensified debates about the US government’s conduct in the war (Khatchadourian, 2010).

Similarly, the publication of the “Afghan War Diary” and “Iraq War Logs” revealed details about civilian casualties, incidents of torture, and the use of controversial weapons, such as white phosphorus, by the US-led coalition forces (Gellman & Soltani, 2013). These releases contributed to a more transparent understanding of the conflicts, providing the public with a counter-narrative to the official accounts provided by governments.

As a Tool for Manipulation

On the other hand, WikiLeaks has also been accused of being a tool for foreign actors seeking to manipulate public opinion through the selective release of information. The most notable example is the 2016 US presidential election, during which WikiLeaks published emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta (Shane & Mazzetti, 2018). The release of these emails, which were allegedly obtained by Russian hackers, was seen as an attempt to discredit Clinton’s campaign and influence the outcome of the election in favor of Donald Trump (Jamieson, 2018).

The use of WikiLeaks as a platform for propaganda highlights the complexity of information warfare in the digital age. While the organization has undoubtedly played a crucial role in promoting transparency and exposing abuses of power, it has also been accused of being a pawn in geopolitical struggles, raising questions about the ethics and consequences of its actions.

Other Websites as Propaganda Platforms

In addition to WikiLeaks, other websites have been used as platforms for disseminating propaganda. For example, during the Syrian Civil War, various online platforms emerged as crucial sources of information for both pro-government and anti-government factions, with both sides using social media, blogs, and video-sharing sites to disseminate their messages (Mortada, 2012).

Moreover, state-sponsored news outlets, such as Russia’s RT and China’s Xinhua, have expanded their online presence, providing alternative perspectives on global events that often challenge Western narratives (Pamment, 2018). These websites can be seen as part of a broader strategy by certain governments to reshape the global information environment in their favor.


While propaganda has evolved since the end of the Cold War, it remains a prevalent tool of international diplomacy. Radio and cinema were historically important tools for propaganda dissemination, but the rise of the internet and social media has fundamentally changed the way it is disseminated. Today, governments and organizations can reach a global audience with targeted messaging through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Nonetheless, some critics argue that Western media outlets still promote a particular worldview and impose Western values on global audiences. This raises important questions about the ethical implications of propaganda dissemination in the digital age and the role of media in shaping public opinion and promoting democratic values.


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