The Difference Between Gray, White And Black Propaganda

By Debra Kelly on Wednesday, February 12, 2014
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“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.” —Edward Bernays

In A Nutshell

During World War II, propaganda was an important tool on all sides. It was from this extensive use of propaganda tools that the formal definitions of white, black, and gray propaganda were developed—and it wasn’t always possible for either side to tell the difference. White propaganda was that whose origin was clearly labeled and which had a transparent purpose. Gray propaganda is information of questionable origin that is never sourced and whose accuracy is doubtful. Black propaganda is information put out by an opposing government or institution and made to look as though it came from a friendly source.

The Whole Bushel

Massive time, effort, and money went into the propaganda of World War II, setting the stage for the countless propaganda campaigns that followed. Whether in wartime or at home in advertising, three main types of propaganda came out of World War II that redefined how it’s done. And you might not even know what you’re looking at when you see it.

White propaganda is the type of propaganda that was broadcast on the home front for both Axis and Allies, and it was also delivered via millions of leaflets dropped from planes over enemy and friendly territory. This type of propaganda stated clearly who it was from, and the purpose of this propaganda was clear by its design and content. White propaganda is the type that asks people on the home front to support the war efforts, and tells them what they can do to make some contributions. It’s also the kind that features testimonials from content prisoners of war telling how much better life is on the other side—a technique that was used as late as the Persian Gulf War.

White propaganda is, for the most part, truthful. At the very least, it’s based in truth with factual elements, although it often doesn’t tell the whole truth. In this way, it’s very much like black propaganda; partial truths are much more believable than outright lies, after all.

Gray propaganda is information that’s really on the other end of the spectrum. It’s propaganda that might seem like it’s presenting legitimate arguments that don’t have any sort of agenda behind them, but the origins of the information (or even the names of the groups releasing it) are almost never properly sourced. A source might be noted occasionally, but it’s often ultimately untrue.

The difference between gray and black propaganda is often a fine line. Black propaganda is that which is produced and distributed with the intent of subversion. The best and most effective black propaganda is that which, in all ways, looks like it’s produced by a legitimate source. In fact, if there’s anything about it that gives it away as a falsehood released by the opposition, that’s gray propaganda. Black propaganda can be true or false, but it’s defined by the reason that it’s released, the intent behind it, and the crucial element of being completely believable.

During World War II, the British government formed the Political Warfare Executive, an organization responsible for the production of black propaganda with an end goal of demoralizing Axis troops and citizens. In fact, the largest target of this effort was the German citizen populace, and the propaganda tried to undermine the war efforts on the home front.

For example, in the 1940s, the British produced a series of postcards meant for aerial drop over Germany or mailed directly to civilians. The German citizens were already laboring under extremely restrictive rations, and some of the postcards mimicked real German communications and went into detail about the lavish meals that German officers and their families enjoyed while the rest of the population starved. Many were created to look like actual communications that got misdirected, and were addressed to different officers and bore forged stamps.

Show Me The Proof

The Black Art – British Clandestine Psychological Warfare against the Third Reich, by Lee Richards
British Black Postcards of World War II

  • lbatfish

    White, black and gray propaganda are all less awesome than the multi-colored kind.

  • Kristi Lindley

    I like glittery propaganda..because, well….I fart glitter. :-》

    • lbatfish

      You must be in great demand for parties!

      • Kristi Lindley

        I keep trying to set up the parties, but when your clients are on oxygen it’s not easy

    • Nathaniel A.

      Are you a stripper?

      • Kristi Lindley

        Only at nursing homes. LOL

        • Chester

          so how much for a gummer and a wheelchair dance?

          • lbatfish

            For some odd reason, Chester, I hope that when we both get old, we both end up at the same retirement home. With Kristi too, of course.

          • Kristi Lindley

            Thank you both, gentleman. I’m sure we’ll all be in the nursing home at the same time, but by that point I’ll be shaking what I have left for tubes of Polygrip.

          • Kristi Lindley

            BAHHAHAHA

          • Chester

            that doesnt answer my question…..lol

        • Patriotic Dane

          Nursing Homes?

          • Kristi Lindley

            HAH! Well, see – I am a standup comedian, so…. theoretically the funniest place to strip would be a nursing home. :)

          • lbatfish

            I was actually thinking about going into standup when I was younger, but settled for something a little different — namely, teaching. It offered a fair amount of overlap, but with better retirement benefits. And also June, July and August.

            Plus, whenever a heckler interrupts your routine, you can send him or her to the principal’s office. :-)

  • Andyman7714

    So what color was this article?

    • The Ou7law

      They call it gwack its a mixture of the three

      • lbatfish

        Great word-invention! :-)

        “I was planning to get something done today, but I was feeling really gwacked, so I went to KN instead.”

        • The Ou7law

          Thanks i couldnt have done it without my family and friends. So i would like to take this time to thank them and i love how you used that in a sentence

          • lbatfish

            Your speech was almost as good as Sally Fields at the Academy Awards!

  • deez knutz

    If u dont like black propaganda you are a racist.

    • TheMadHatter

      But you can hate white and grey propaganda. Go America.

      • deez knutz

        Of course….Everyone hates white propaganda………duh!

        • TheStupidityofLiberals

          White propaganda is the purest form of propaganda- it’s master propaganda.

          • deez knutz

            Lol……someones been lying to you.

  • Timothy53

    And what about rainbow propaganda? That’s what I want to know. Is this site so homophobic they can’t talk about rainbow propaganda. Yeah, that’s what I thought. Gay h8rs.

    • TheStupidityofLiberals

      Rainbow propaganda is useless because people will never truly tolerate gay people. What they do, and what they stand for, is an aberration against human nature.

  • TheStupidityofLiberals

    The author has it all wrong. White propaganda is the best type of propaganda and the purest form of propaganda. Black propaganda uses liberal rhetoric and doesn’t use logical arguments- instead it mainly consists of victim blaming, name-calling, and finger pointing. And gray propaganda is everything else that isn’t white or black.

  • http://www.alor.dk/ Maiken Jacobsen

    What?