Propagandists have potent new tools to bend the truth

Damian Ohajunwa, of Parklands, with Newlands author Deji Haastrup.

Truth and social cohesion are under threat in a world where artificial intelligence and social media have made it easy to manipulate information and fake facts, says Newlands author Deji Haastrup.

Speaking at the launch of his book, The Art of Propaganda, at Clarke’s Bookshop on Thursday October 26, he said propaganda was pervasive and people would seek ways to bend the truth whether it be a political campaign or a workplace dispute.

Hitting the shelves just in time for the fresh propaganda campaigns ahead of next year’s elections, Mr Haastrup’s book explores the use of propaganda in politics, war, and religion.

He said he was inspired to write the book after observing how former American president Donald Trump employed propaganda tactics reminiscent of chief Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it,” he said, echoing a quote often attributed to Goebbels.

Mr Haastrup voiced concern about the growing influence of propaganda, especially in the age of social media and artificial intelligence. People seemed more willing to accept and internalise false information without critical examination, he warned.

Mr Haastrup has researched the impact of propaganda during the Nigerian Civil War (1967 to 1970). Despite the lack of satellite television at the time and reliance on radio for news, he said, propaganda had played a pivotal role in shaping public opinion during the conflict.

The book is divided into three parts. The first delves into the origin and meaning of the word “propaganda”, tracing it back to the Latin word for propagation. It was, according to Mr Haastrup, first used in 1622 when Pope Gregory XV established the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of Faith to spread the Christian religion throughout Europe and reaffirm Roman Catholic doctrine.

Mr Haastrup said advances in technology, social media, and artificial intelligence had opened doors to manufacturing facts, fake news, conspiracy theories and disinformation campaigns.

With the evolving mass media and a lack of advertising regulations, manipulating information and distorting reality had become easier, posing a significant threat to the value of truth and societal cohesion.

Asking whether the trend could be reversed, he advised unlearning what we have learnt in order to learn what we ought to learn.

“It starts by always looking for the other side of every story,” he said.

He describes his book as “part history and part contemporary politics and sociology, communication and psychology”.

André Sales, co-owner of Clarke’s Bookshop, said the book would appeal to anyone who likes to take a hard look at how knowledge is presented to us.

“I feel that learning about the tools of propaganda will help equip one to approach the information presented to us with curious scepticism.”

Deji Haastrup’s background includes a Master’s degree in communication arts from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and a career that spans radio and television broadcasting, public affairs, and public diplomacy.

To sign up for book launches at Clake’s Bookshop in Long Street, email or call 021 423 5739.

Environmental management student Alex Wakuenda, of Pinelands, with Chrissy Dube, of Johannesburg. Ms Dube is chairperson of the Good Governance Africa management committee.
Book assistant Jessica Smith, of Gardens, with Clake’s Bookshop co-owner, André Sales, of Observatory.