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Framing and Propaganda: The Thin Line Between Influence and Deception

It is nearly impossible to tell a story that fully conveys the entire context and actual events. Imagine telling about a fun evening with friends where everyone had a good time, only to later discover that one friend did not enjoy it at all. You are not lying but giving a one-sided view of reality. In professional terms, this is called framing.

What is Framing?

Framing involves communicating a message by highlighting certain aspects while leaving out others, based on what you find relevant. Other opinions or events that do not contribute to what you want to convey are consciously or unconsciously omitted.

Framing is a very human trait because otherwise, we would have to be very verbose and go into great detail. On the other hand, we must be cautious with framing because ideas or stories you tell can quickly lead to the feeling that you want to mislead people.

For example, someone who tells everyone in detail how great their life is, while listeners know that the person is deeply in debt, lonely, and uses too many drugs, will soon be considered unreliable and not open. You can project the frame of happiness, but if people know that the information outside the frame contradicts this, it will harm your integrity.

The Benefits of Framing in Communication

When used appropriately and in moderation, framing in communication can have many advantages. People who specialize in communication will apply framing skillfully and unnoticed, making them seem friendlier and more sympathetic. Here are some benefits of framing:

Framing Shows What You Stand For: What you believe in and what you stand for is part of who you are, and framing helps convey that to the outside world. A friend of mine is a strong advocate for nature and animals and talks about it frequently. By framing, she omits many facts from reputable researchers who hold different views on the possible destruction of nature by humans. This framing is not an issue because it merely shows how she wants to be perceived, and that is her right.

Framing Saves Time: Another advantage of framing is that it saves time. If she had to explain how she arrived at her conviction at every birthday party, the evening would be too short. She has delved into the arguments of both supporters and opponents and cannot convey all that knowledge in a short time.

Framing Helps Generate Enthusiasm: One of the simplest ways to make someone excited about something is to emphasize how fun, beneficial, or interesting it can be. By highlighting all the possible advantages and leaving out the possible disadvantages, framing can influence people and make them enthusiastic about something.

Framing Helps to Warn Someone: Conversely, this works too. Worried parents who fear something might happen to their child while cycling will quickly list many potential dangers. In communication, this is usually not the most pleasant way to convince someone to be careful while cycling and can even spoil the fun significantly.

Framing Clarifies a Message: By focusing on the main points, the receiver can quickly understand what you are trying to convey without being overwhelmed by too much or overly detailed information.

Framing Has an Emotional Impact: By using stories and images that evoke strong emotions, the sender's message can become more powerful through framing. A photo of a group of friends dancing at your birthday party says more than the facts about who did or did not have a good time.

The Art of Reframing in Communication

In addition to framing, there is also reframing, which essentially involves giving a different perspective on things. Coaches and psychologists often use this technique, but public speakers also frequently apply it. The success of comedians often depends on how well they can reframe. By viewing situations within a different context or from another standpoint, something sad can suddenly become funny, and vice versa.

Coaches and psychologists use reframing regularly to help their clients look at a situation from a renewed perspective. For example: When I was 14, I ran away from home and was placed in a foster family. At 16, I ended up alone in Amsterdam. I can frame this as bad luck, pity, or a tragedy. I can also reframe it as an opportunity to grow up faster and shape my life with complete freedom. I choose the latter and claim that without this experience, I would never have been able to start my first business at 16 and build a million-dollar company by 21.

How Does Reframing Work?

Reframing is a technique that changes the way you look at a situation, event, or thought. This technique can be applied to various subjects and situations, regardless of whether they are perceived as negative or positive. Here are the steps of how reframing works:

  1. Recognition of the Current Interpretation: The first step is becoming aware of how you or people generally view a particular situation, event, or thought. This can be a neutral, positive, or negative interpretation.

  2. Challenging the Current Interpretation: Ask yourself questions about the current interpretation. Why do you or others see it this way? What are the reasons and evidence for the current viewpoint? Is there another way to look at this situation?

  3. Seeking Alternative Perspectives: Try to view the situation from different angles. What are other possible interpretations? How might someone else in the same situation view it? Are there positive or educational aspects you haven't considered?

  4. Formulating a New Interpretation: Replace the original interpretation with a new perspective on the situation. This can be a positive spin, a more balanced view, or simply another way to approach it.

The Mainstream Media and Framing

Every newspaper or TV program is essentially created from a certain ideology and therefore inherently engages in framing. In many countries, the mainstream media is controlled by the government, specific political parties within the government, or a select group of investors, which sometimes leads to framing clashing with the journalistic profession. In such cases, framing can even turn into propaganda, often without people realizing it.

A Historical Example: 

In 1990, Saddam Hussein of Iraq used chemical weapons against the Kurds. The US Senate was initially reluctant to intervene militarily in the region. However, a heartbreaking testimony significantly changed public opinion.

In October 1990, a fifteen-year-old girl named Nayirah testified before Congress. She tearfully described how she had seen Iraqi soldiers remove babies from incubators and throw them to the ground while volunteering at a hospital. The mainstream media picked up this story worldwide, leading to widespread outrage and a shift in public and political attitudes.

Later, it turned out that Nayirah was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States and that her testimony was organized by an expensive PR firm, Hill & Knowlton, hired by the Kuwaiti government to mobilize support for military action.

The US intervention in Iraq, known as the Gulf War, eventually began in January 1991, after Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait.

Sometimes we do not know what is politically going on and who is behind it. Perhaps certain factions within the US government, who already wanted to invade, helped set up this story. However, the above is a case where framing shifts to propaganda. When the mainstream media does not take its journalistic duty seriously, it thoroughly contributes to this, leading to the public being misled.

17 Notable Mainstream Media Examples Where Framing Shifted to Propaganda

Historically, both in the East and the West, it has frequently occurred that the media no longer frame but spread propaganda. Some well-known examples include:

America's Role in the Liberation of Europe During World War II:

A common narrative in Western media is that the United States and the Allies liberated Europe from the Nazi regime. The focus is often on the Allied invasion on D-Day in 1944. However, the Soviet Red Army had already conquered a third of Nazi Germany and was almost at the gates of Berlin when the Allies began D-Day. Information about the crucial contribution of the Soviet Union is often minimized or ignored.

Vietnam War (1960s-1970s):

At the beginning of the war, many American media presented the conflict as a necessary fight against communism. Later, it became clear that the complexity and atrocities of the war were deliberately concealed or manipulated. The Pentagon Papers revealed that the government withheld and manipulated information, shifting the framing to propaganda to maintain public support.

Cuban Missile Crisis (1962):

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, details about the US's placement of missiles in Turkey and Italy, which threatened the Soviet Union, were initially withheld. The media mainly emphasized the threat of Soviet missiles in Cuba. This one-sided framing helped the US government justify its stance and actions, which was later seen as propaganda.

Falklands War (1982):

During the Falklands War between the United Kingdom and Argentina, British media often withheld information about the actual situation on the battlefield and the diplomatic efforts behind the scenes. The emphasis was on patriotic messages and justifying the war, shifting the framing to propaganda to maintain public support for military action.

Invasion of Panama (1989):

During the US invasion of Panama to depose Manuel Noriega, the media presented the operation as necessary to restore democracy and combat drug trafficking. Later, it became clear that economic and geopolitical interests of the US in the region played a significant role. This information was deliberately minimized, shifting the framing to propaganda.

Invasion of Afghanistan (2001):

After the September 11 attacks, American media and government justified the invasion of Afghanistan by focusing on the need to combat Al-Qaeda. It later emerged that information about the complexity of the situation and the US's interests in the region, such as influence on geopolitical power balances and natural resources, was deliberately withheld. This changed the framing to propaganda to justify the war.

Iraq War and Weapons of Mass Destruction (2003)

The American and British media often reported that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, which justified the invasion of Iraq. However, it was later revealed that these weapons did not exist and that information about them was deliberately withheld. The original framing shifted to propaganda to justify the war.

Financial Crisis of 2008

In the lead-up to the financial crisis of 2008, many media outlets did not report on the risky practices of banks and financial institutions. After the crisis, it became clear that there were alarming signals and critical information that were deliberately ignored or minimized to maintain confidence in financial markets and institutions. This framing later turned into propaganda, contributing to the lack of preventive measures.

Mexican Flu (H1N1) Pandemic (2009)

The coverage often exaggerated the threat of the H1N1 outbreak, leading to unnecessary panic and fear. It was later found that the actual impact of H1N1 was much lower than suggested and that the media had deliberately withheld information to make the threat seem greater.

Election Fraud in Iran (2009)

After the Iranian presidential elections of 2009, many Western media extensively reported on alleged election fraud and the subsequent protests. Although there were indications of irregularities, the internal political complexities and broad support for the incumbent government were often ignored. This one-sided reporting contributed to the framing that shifted to propaganda to question the legitimacy of the Iranian government.

War in Libya (2011)

During the NATO intervention in Libya to overthrow the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, many media presented the intervention as a humanitarian action to protect civilians. However, it was later revealed that strategic interests such as oil and geopolitical influence also played a role. This information was deliberately not highlighted, shifting the framing to propaganda to justify the intervention.

Weapons of Mass Destruction in Syria (2013)

In 2013, the media extensively reported on the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government against its population. Later, it turned out that there was questionable and sometimes contradictory information about who was responsible for the attacks. This led to the withholding of certain facts to justify the intervention of foreign powers, shifting the framing to propaganda.

MH17 Disaster (2014)

After the downing of flight MH17 over Ukraine, some media initially reported without sufficient evidence that pro-Russian rebels were responsible. It later emerged that various possible scenarios and evidence were not investigated or presented, resulting in one-sided reporting that led to propaganda.

Rich People 'Giving Away' Their Wealth

A common narrative in the media is that wealthy individuals, such as Bill Gates, give away half or all of their wealth to charity. This is often presented as an altruistic act of philanthropy. However, in reality, these donations are often part of complex business deals that provide tax benefits and maintain control over their wealth. Information about how these donations can actually contribute to their further wealth and influence is often omitted. This shifts the framing to propaganda, creating the image of selflessness, while in fact, it is a strategic business decision.

Introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Agriculture (1990s-present)

The media often presented GMOs as the solution to global food shortages and a way to improve agricultural production. However, information about the potential health and environmental effects, as well as the control of large biotechnology companies over seeds and farmers, was often omitted. This one-sided framing supported the interests of the industry and provided propaganda that positively influenced the public perception of GMOs.

Prosperity in the United States

A common narrative in the media is that the United States is one of the richest and most prosperous countries in the world. This image emphasizes economic strength, technological advancement, and a high standard of living. However, what is often omitted is information about extreme inequality, poverty among large parts of the population, and poor infrastructure and social services in certain areas. In many respects, the US functions as a third-world country, with poor access to healthcare, high unemployment, and substandard public services. This framing of the US as a rich and prosperous country shifts to propaganda by ignoring these critical aspects and presenting a one-sided positive image.

COVID-19 Pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the mainstream media presented the necessity of lockdowns and other measures as indisputable scientific facts, emphasizing that these measures were essential to protect public health. However, information about the economic and social consequences of lockdowns, the enormous profits of the pharmaceutical industry, and the later proven negative effects were often omitted or minimized. Additionally, the deadliness of the virus was often exaggerated in the early stages, while later it was found that the death rate was comparable to that of a severe flu. The definition of a pandemic was also adjusted to classify COVID-19 as a pandemic. This one-sided reporting ignored critical perspectives and shifted the framing to propaganda to maintain public support for the measures.

How to Stay Self-Aware About Framing and Propaganda

People can frame information, manipulate it, or even spread it as propaganda. Therefore, it’s crucial to be vigilant about this. However, it is even more important to be aware of how you process and convey information. If you consume one-sided or framed information, you risk passing it on similarly framed, manipulated, or as propaganda to others, often without realizing it. And that is the last thing you should want.

When friends or journalists lose their integrity, it can lead to a one-sided and misleading representation of reality. Journalists have the important task of not just taking press releases at face value but conducting in-depth research and fact-checking. They must strive for balanced reporting that highlights different perspectives and portrays the complex reality as honestly as possible.

It is essential to understand that everyone, including media organizations, has a certain degree of bias. Therefore, it is important to gather information from multiple sources, critically examine the origin of the information, and investigate what interests might be at play. Ask yourself: Who benefits from me believing this? What information is being omitted? Are there other perspectives not being highlighted?

Additionally, it is important to be aware of your own tendencies and biases. We tend to seek information that confirms our existing beliefs, known as confirmation bias. By being aware of this, you can try to consider a broader range of information and gain a more balanced view.

I encourage you to actively participate in conversations and discussions on important topics. Ask questions, be curious, and be willing to revise your own viewpoints in light of new information. Reframe!

Only by remaining critical and open to different perspectives can we get closer to the truth and better inform ourselves about the world around us.

In short, framing and propaganda are powerful tools that can be used to influence people or public opinion. By remaining critical and carefully evaluating our information, we can protect ourselves against deception and make better-informed decisions. Remember that your way of communicating can influence others; strive to always be honest, open, and balanced. A coin always has two sides!


Frequently Asked Questions About Framing

What is framing?

Framing is the process of presenting information in a certain way to provoke a specific interpretation or reaction. This can mean emphasizing certain aspects while omitting others, depending on what the sender of the message finds important.

How does framing differ from propaganda?

Framing is often a subtler way of communication where certain aspects of a message are emphasized. Propaganda, on the other hand, is a more aggressive form of influence that uses misleading or one-sided information to manipulate public opinion and promote a specific agenda.

Why is framing a human trait?

Framing is a human trait because we constantly make choices about what information we share and how we present it. This often happens unconsciously, as we tend to filter and interpret information based on our own experiences, beliefs, and goals.

What are the benefits of framing in communication?

Framing can help convey a message more clearly and powerfully. It can save time, increase emotional impact, and ensure that the recipient quickly understands the main points. It also helps generate enthusiasm or warn someone of potential dangers.

What are the risks of framing?

The biggest risk of framing is that it can lead to a one-sided and misleading representation of reality. If framing is used unconsciously or deliberately to hide or distort information, it can turn into propaganda, undermining the integrity of communication.

How can I stay critical of the information I receive?

To stay critical of the information you receive, it is important to gather information from multiple sources, investigate the origin of the information, and examine what interests might be at play. Ask yourself questions like: Who benefits from me believing this? What information is being omitted? Are there other perspectives not being highlighted?

How can I consciously deal with framing?

Be aware of your own tendencies and biases. Try to view information objectively and consider different perspectives. Take the time to conduct thorough research before sharing information, and be transparent about your sources and motivation.

What is reframing and how does it work?

Reframing is the process of changing the way you view a situation, event, or thought to gain a positive or constructive interpretation. This can be achieved by challenging the current interpretation, seeking alternative perspectives, and formulating a new interpretation.

Why is integrity important in journalism and communication?

Integrity in journalism and communication is crucial because it helps build and maintain trust. Journalists and communicators have the responsibility to fact-check, highlight different perspectives, and avoid misleading information. This contributes to a well-informed and critically thinking society.

What can I do if I notice someone framing or manipulating information?

If you notice someone framing or manipulating information, try asking open-ended questions and engaging in dialogue. Ask for sources and evidence for the presented information and offer alternative perspectives. It is important to remain respectful and constructive in such conversations.

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