The propaganda of social networks
In 1965 Jacques Ellul published his brilliant book, simply titled, “Propaganda“. The introduction to the book, written by Konrad Kellen, gives the readers a glimpse of the main arguments posed by Ellul. One central thesis is that propaganda, is a social phenomena that cannot survive nor exist without the technological society and vice versa. In other words, Ellul claims that propaganda as a social phenomenon, is a Siamese twin of the technological society. It is only by the effects of this propaganda can the technological society exist and flourish. The supreme law of propaganda, to Ellul, is its effectiveness. Propaganda must be effective, if it is not, it is not propaganda. watching
people flock together to the social network, its popularity and ultimate grasp on our daily lives, seems to be like the result of a very effective propaganda. There are many definitions of the word “Propaganda”, researchers, philosophers and many others each tried to come up with the ultimate definition. Majority of them seem to agree that it constitute the use of deliberate actions aimed at influencing audiences to change/maintain opinions and/or actions by use of psychological means.
This makes one wonder of the hypnotizing and extraordinary grasp that social networks have on our lives. Exploring the origins of the social networks and network society, many researchers including but not limited to: Manuel Castells, Scott Lash, Danah M Boyd, Nicole B Ellison and many others paint a magnificent picture of the factors that brought about this phenomena into existence. Today, many researchers, professionals and advocates hale and marvel at these great social phenomena that were able to flourish thanks to advancements in technology. Looking at the social network from a philosophical point of view, it may be seen as “god’s gift” to democracy and freedom of expression.
We are led to believe that the social network works for us. On the surface it may appear so: citizens have brought down regimes, activists have managed to take on multi-million dollar co-operations, families re-united, relationships are formed each and every day, and so on. The list of benefits is as endless as the network itself. On the opposite side of the coin, it is no surprise that each user is also working for the network. An effective propaganda is one that leads people for actions and make them think that it is for their own good, to be part of something greater than one self. The social network provides exactly that. A chance for the individual to feel part of something, to belong, while the propagandist is capitalizing on his success. Do we need this propaganda to flourish? Do we require this propaganda to excel and develop further? For Ellul the answer is simple. Yes.
“In my opnion, necessity never establishes legitimacy; the world of necessity is a world of weakness, a world that denies man”
Jacques Ellul (1962)