PR has been seen to have its roots in propaganda and in the early part of the 20th century, was often associated with pushing company products and political agendas. Since then, PR has become an established professional and academic discipline and has moved away from this association.
A century or more later, this digital dinosaur wonders if digital media however, is a tool that encourages the propagation of propaganda? One could argue that digital media encourages extreme views to promote various groups political agendas to another level.
Digital media has the capacity to deliver a large number of messages to a vast number of recipients within a very short time, which means messages to support a specific agenda can reach an unprecedented number of audiences, without editors or traditional gatekeepers’ intervention. Through the digital network, this capability is further compounded by “flow”.
Flow relates to the structure of social media platforms, which are set up to keep their audiences engaged. Content is linked and appears in relation to internet and social media searches, keeping the viewer immersed in the subject he or she is currently reading about. This leads to reinforcement of the message and little opportunity for the viewer to consider alternative perspectives.
So, what evidence is there of flow and pushing of propaganda or agendas on digital media? There are multiple examples of political agendas being orchestrated today, whether conspiracy theories such as Q Anon, the tweets of American President Donald Trump or the recent activism of the Black Lives Matter movement. What is evident is that digital media is the tool being used at the forefront of pushing these specific agendas to mass audiences, only to a hitherto unimaginable number.
See article on Forbes magazine on how social media has been used in the Black Lives Matter campaign:
Digital media platforms have become an essential vehicle for delivery of messages and ideas and an important weapon in the public relations arsenal of all that use it. With any great weapon it should be used carefully by organisations and politicians, and assessed wisely by the public, however this shows no sign of occurring, and ultimately has become a very powerful tool that can be wielded for good and bad.
I conclude that the use of social and digital media to push political agendas is in my view, turning back the clock in some ways. I draw parallels with the use of social media in pushing political or company agendas, with how PR first began and argue that social media is sending us back to the past rather than the future.