Propaganda is more than ever present on social media today. We just don’t know it as posters hanging in the streets anymore. Nowadays, propaganda is mainly spread through the internet and social media. On apps where we spend an average of 2 hours and 29 minutes a day, according to the Dutch magazine Emerce.
In a report of the European Union on free and pluralistic media, the European Commission states that personalisation of propaganda can threaten democracy. Online media are increasingly adapted to the characteristics and preferences of the user, so that not every user of a social media channel sees the same content. In this way, we will see personalised propaganda on various social media apps.
The channels keep track of what you have recently liked, or who you have looked up. “After all, social media algorithms rely on likes, shares and comments to estimate which posts will appear at the top of your timeline,” says Elke Boudry from Mediawijs. Political parties in particular make use of this personalised propaganda. That is their strategy for winning elections.
For example, American research into elections shows that Americans who receive partisan news develop more extreme views during election campaigns. People who regularly come into contact with different views are equipped to give reasons for their political choices and have more understanding for the views of others. The danger of polarisation in America is considerably higher than in countries like The Netherlands. This is because in the US it is a bipartisan system and in other European countries, such as Belgium and The Netherlands, they work with multiple parties.
Personal propaganda is shared by many people on social media. “The most extreme opinions, often with an emotional basis, are shared the quickest, regardless of their content,” says De ingenieur. This ensures a wider audience and that you get more similar content because the internet stores those algorithms.
On social media, propaganda is often used in the form of memes. These are pictures with a funny text or expression. “Memes are the ideal way to quickly draw attention to something on the Internet and reach many people,” says Boudry. Spreading propaganda on social media is not yet prohibited by law. But some forms of propaganda such as terrorist propaganda are more dangerous than others. Therefore, the European Union decided in 2021 that social media companies have the obligation to remove or block such propaganda within the hour. In this way, the European Union hopes to prevent the spread of extremist ideas.