Every genocide begins with marketing.
Before a government can begin the extermination of a group of people, they have to get buy in from the masses. They have to convince soldiers that by pulling the trigger they are improving the world. Every genocide of the last century started with a marketing campaign.
The others have to be dehumanized before they can be exterminated. By highlighting the differences a propagandist creates a mental segmentation. This systematic dehumanization is the first step towards committing atrocities. Once you’re not dealing with a human violence comes easily.
What makes for effective propaganda?
Propaganda, like all marketing, comes down to the credibility of the messenger, the believability of the message, and the efficiency of delivery. Historically this has meant tv, radio, posters, and leaflets.
Before the Holocaust the Nazis made movies, created posters, held rallies, and wrote books.
In Rwanda the RTLMC radio station broadcasted messages of hate.
The Sri Lankan government leveraged international media to label the Tamil Tigers as terrorists. They used this positioning to justify their brutal tactics at the end of the war
How can we fight this shift in mindset?
The easiest way is to start with kids. To connect unite children of different ethnic group and let them make friends. Creating a personal bond and memories that will last into adulthood. When I was working in Sri Lanka USAID funded projects to bring together Buddhists, Hindus, and Christian children. These programs were designed to show that people of every faith have a shared humanity. It’s a great program, but it is reactionary in nature. The iNGO community is funding these initiatives to heal the scars of war, and to prevent future violence.
How can we nip hateful marketing in the bud?
In future genocides propaganda will spread on the internet. Channels like twitter, facebook, and snapchat will be used to publicize messages of hate. Messages that are designed to dehumanize the other. Of course these platforms can’t just wipe out all hate speech, but they can monitor it. They can report on growing trends and give us an early warning signal.
A useful way to think about this would be to map instances of hate speech, and weight them based upon the number of impressions they receive.
Hateful messages aren’t particularly dangerous unless they are influential, or growing.
For example, a politician’s comments about creating a database to keep track of an ethnic group might not rank high on the hate axis, but it would rate very high on the influence axis. If his comments were increasing in frequency and gaining influence then there would be cause for concern. This should throw off a warning sign that the global community might need to step in.
The internet is making everything open and searchable. Now, how do we do something meaningful with it?
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