20 Propagandas That Are Brainwashing You Without You Even Knowing It

Propaganda isn’t just those wartime posters telling you to buy war bonds. It’s not just politics, either. This psychological mind trick is used to manipulate you into thinking, feeling, or doing something. And guess what? It’s not always wearing a big sign that says “PROPAGANDA.” Nope, sometimes people fail to realize propaganda that is in plain sight!

One Redditor asked, “What is propaganda, but people don’t seem to realize is propaganda?” Many users commented on this thread, and we have listed the top 20 ones for you!

1. Social Media 

Young pretty woman using social media on her smartphone
Image Credit: HASLOO via DepositPhotos.com.

So, you’re scrolling through your feed. It’s all cool, cats doing funny stuff, your friend’s brunch pics, and then… bam!

You come across these posts that make you feel like the world’s about to end if you don’t buy this super-organic, life-changing energy drink. That’s social media propaganda! They’re selling you way more than just a drink- they’re selling you an idea that your life is incomplete without it. Sneaky, right? 

A discerning Reddit user commented, “A lot of apparently vapid or mildly interesting stuff you see on YouTube, TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and oh yes, Reddit. Sometimes even the comments.”

Someone else replied, “I feel like that’s mostly an issue with how Facebook actually functions. If you give everyone the ability to splinter into tiny specialized communities, that’s exactly what they’re gonna do. I also wish balanced political discussion was possible on these social media platforms, but it’s just not the right format. That’s why I’ve decided that it’s not worth it, it’s a complete waste of time. I just come here for cheap entertainment and to talk about hobbies; that’s what it’s actually good for.”

2. Internet Memes

woman surprised.
Image Credit: Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock.

So, memes, right? They’re these little chunks of internet culture that spread faster than wildfire. You laugh, you share, and you move on. But hold up, sometimes those memes are more than just a good chuckle. It’s propaganda in disguise, using your laughs to push an agenda. 

One Redditor stated, “Internet memes, especially any that are political or reference culture war nonsense. They’re deliberately created by people who are trying to manipulate their audience into feeling or thinking a certain way.”

Another person agreed to it and said, “Maxibon started using memes as advertising recently, and I’m here for it. I was already sold on the product before this anyway.”

3. Air Shows

Four fighter jets in the shape of a diamond in the sky beautiful sunset
Image Credit: aappp/Shutterstock.

Someone commented, “Air Shows! I remember going to air shows with my dad when I was young. I loved seeing the Blue Angels, Thunderbirds, and all the military aircraft they flew in for static displays. I remember asking dad why the government/military spends so much on these things. They’re just entertainment. Then he told me that these shows are very big recruitment tools. They also encourage patriotism and pride in the US military.”

Another replied, “Tbh, most of the air shows are run by private parties who anticipate aircraft enthusiasts to attend. They are great recruitment tools that the military takes advantage.”

Think about it- these shows are all about showing off the capabilities of military aircraft. They’re flexing those wings, showing how fast, agile, and powerful their planes are. And guess what? It’s not just for the thrill of it.

4. Military Movies

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Image Credit: Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock.

A Reddit user wrote, “Any movie that’s made with the ‘cooperation’ of the US Military.”

Another responded, “Yup. That equals “the US government gave us a boatload of money to make the military look like a bunch of benevolent heroes.””

One added, “One time, the Navy allowed a band to shoot a music video for a song about the advantages of enlisting in the Navy, without realizing what everyone else in the entire world knew: all the advantages touted in the song boiled down to, being in the Navy gives you more opportunities to have time with others. Oops.”

Explosions, heroic sacrifices, and that “we’re in this together” spirit that gives you all the feels. But guess what? Those feelings aren’t just random emotions. It’s all part of the master plan- the hidden propaganda. 

5. Cereal Companies

Grocery store shelf with boxes of various brands of breakfast cereal.
Image Credit: Kenishirotie/Shutterstock.

First things first, cereal companies are the kings of marketing. They know exactly how to make you want their stuff. You see those flashy commercials with happy families pouring cereal into their bowls, and suddenly, you want it, too. But it’s not just about breakfast; it’s about planting the idea that their cereal equals happiness.

Someone commented, ““Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” -Cereal companies.”

Another person pitched in to say, “I only realized in my 30s! What a load of junk! That is the worst health advice ever. Eating cereals the first thing in the morning is one of the stupidest things I have heard.”

6. Video Games

Young man playing video games
Image Credit: belchonock via DepositPhotos.com.

A discerning Reddit user commented, “Certain video games, or at least the Modern Warfare franchise. Activision has a weird amount of former national security officials in high positions. There are also interesting choices, like how they put the infamous “Highway of Death” (when the US destroyed the retreating Iraqi military convoy during the Gulf War) in one of their games…but blamed it on Russia. 

Another person agreed to it and said, “Also, in MW2, you start out guiding a missile strike on an Iranian general named “Gabroni” who looks suspiciously like Suleimaini (excuse the horrible spelling) that we assassinated during the Trump administration. 

In the game, Russia is supporting Iran (believable enough), who is, in turn, supporting “Al-Qatala,” an obvious reference to Al Qaeda. It’s almost a throwback to the speech W. Bush gave in which he dubbed North Korea, Iraq, and Iran the “Axis of Evil,” as if they were working together in conjunction with Al Qaeda.”

So, what can you do? Well, first off, keep playing those games! But also be a critical player. Think about the messages these games send and the values they promote. Question the narratives and the motivations behind the characters and quests!

7. Politics

Democrat Party and Republican Party Symbol on an American Flag Background
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One Redditor stated, “If you follow politics, you are the subject of propaganda, both by your party and the opposing parties.”

Someone else replied, “Whereas if you don’t follow politics, you’re totally above it all. In fact, you’re better off not paying attention to politics at all, or else the propaganda might get you.”

So, next time you’re knee-deep in political debates, remember, it’s not just a clash of opinions- it’s also a whirlwind of propaganda, shaping the way you see the world.

8. The Pledge

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You might be thinking, “Wait, what? Propaganda in the pledge?” But guess what? These days, propaganda is sprinkled into our daily routine, and most of us don’t even bat an eyelash.

A Reddit user wrote, “Saying the pledge of allegiance in US schools every day.”

Another replied, “Yeah, as an American, I never thought much about it, but we did a high school exchange with a German school, and those kids thought it was really freaky. Granted, they were hyper-sensitive to fascism and talked a lot about it as part of their curriculum, but to them, the pledge in schools looks like fascist propaganda.”

9. The Upper Class

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Image Credit: Kiselev Andrey Valerevich/Shutterstock.

So, you’ve seen them, right? The upper class likes strolling around in their designer clothes. Now, here’s the twist- that image they project? It’s not just about showing off their bling; it’s also about maintaining a certain social order. That’s upper-class propaganda in action.

One said, “Any suggestion that working-class people are competing against one another for super-limited government resources? The only competition is the vast majority of Americans against the very few ultra-elites that are hoarding all the wealth.”

Another person pitched in to say, “I’m so glad to see this. The only “dangerous minority” in the US is the wealthy/powerful class.”

10. “He Gets Us”

man wearing red tshirt looking upset
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“He Gets Us” isn’t just about faith; it’s about creating this sense of unity and belonging. And that’s where the hidden propaganda kicks in; it’s a way of pulling you into a specific worldview.

Someone commented, “”He Gets Us” is a Christian ad campaign funded by groups like Hobby Lobby to try and make Christianity more palatable to young people and skeptics after decades of tying Christianity to right-wing politics. Major “He Gets Us” donors also frequently donate to anti-LGBT and anti-abortion groups, which makes their claims of being “apolitical” kind of hilarious.

They also use terms like “canceled,” which is something the right is obsessed with; it’s not hard to see how the idea of being canceled for “speaking the truth” is really popular with right-wing people (even though there’s a huge difference between “I called Obama a {black expletive} and suddenly some people don’t want to talk to me as much” and being literally executed by the state). 

The idea of making it “apolitical” is also popular with the right, who view Christianity as the default religion and everything else as an aberration by the ignorant or downright malicious; while the organization isn’t officially tied with any particular sect, it does say they’re inspired by the Lausanne Covenant which is the founding document of Evangelicals.

Another person agreed to it and said, “Basically, imagine an “apolitical” group that wanted to return America to a nation founded under the ideals of George Washington, was funded by Mitch McConnell, and drew inspiration from the Federalist Society.

Hilariously, many far-right commentators who like the open bigotry of far-right Christianity are also upset that “He Gets Us” isn’t more blatant anti-LGBT/anti-abortion propaganda.”

11. Police

A friendly looking female officer standing behind crime scene tape with her arms crossed.
Image Credit: John Roman Images/Shutterstock.

We aren’t saying every cop is a bad apple. There are people in the force genuinely trying to make a positive difference. But the system itself? It’s built on propaganda fed to us since we were kids. 

One Redditor stated, “Any video of a cop playing basketball with an inner city kid. Helping a kid tie a tie, funny dancing traffic cop, a funny lip-synching cop in his squad car, a funny video involving a cop dog, pulling people over to hand out coupons for treats…. It’s all fake, guys. Literally any police drama. They’re made to give the impression that police are competent and care.”

Another replied, “And cop TV shows. They’re designed to make police seem more effective than they really are.”

12. War on Christmas

Holidays and presents concept. Guy with beard and concerned face dressed like Santa.
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A discerning Reddit user commented, “War on Christmas stuff really bugs me. Nobody is trying to take Christmas away from you, Billy-Bob. Nobody wants to stop you from celebrating whatever you want. Give presents, put up a tree, put Jesus in your manger, do whatever pleases you. Nobody cares.”

Someone else replied, “The perpetrator isn’t “Billy Bob.” He’s a victim of the propaganda. So by targeting “him,” you are just falling victim to the same j{junk}”

Some propagandist (in this case, it’s mostly coming from conservative media) is saying, “Hey, look over there!” In an attempt to distract you. A lot of people fall for it. But the people who spend all their time attacking the ones that got duped are still engaging in the culture war distraction.”

These people claim that saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” is a sign of political correctness gone wild. Like, seriously? Can’t we just spread some cheer without getting caught up in a useless battle?

13. 80’s Cartoons

Excited young brunette woman girl in casual white clothes, eyeglasses posing isolated on pastel blue background.
Image Credit: ViDI Studio/Shutterstock,.

Who doesn’t remember shows like “Transformers,” “He-Man,” and “G.I. Joe”? They are surely a rollercoaster of excitement and nostalgia. But guess what? Behind all those catchy theme songs and crazy adventures, there might’ve been some subtle brainwashing going on.

Someone commented, “Those 80’s cartoons everyone is so nostalgic for? He-man? Thundercats? Transformers? GI Joe? They were 20-minute toy commercials, with a message slapped just to comply with Broadcast standards and regulations, but they were blatantly creating brand awareness of plastic junk.”

Another person pitched in to say, “Did I want some of the tie-in toys from those cartoons? Yes. Did I get inherent value from watching the cartoons, and did that ultimately far outweigh any value the toys might have brought? Also, yes.”

14. The Cover-up Pizza Party

Lovely cute positive young woman hiding behind pizza
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A Reddit user wrote, “Pizza parties instead of bonuses or raises every single time.”

Another person agreed to it and said, “Oh ya my previous job had pretty much ‘forced’ work get-togethers/parties. At like beer gardens, golf courses, etc., they’d get very angry when you’d refuse to go. They were banking on that ‘perk’ of working there, I think, because they didn’t offer any benefits and they paid peanuts at my current job; I get overjoyed and feel undeserving when they give out bonuses and raises, and even kind words for a job well done. I was so abused at my last job. Still healing in my current one.”

Sure, the allure of free food and a fun time with your colleagues is hard to resist. But think about what you’re really getting here.

15. The Troops

Cheerful military man in uniform and cap smiling near american flag
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One Redditor stated, “Honoring military personnel at pretty much anything (especially baseball/football, although they said they stopped this practice in 2016).”

Another replied, “The Pentagon has a large budget for ‘enticing’ public displays of support for the troops, honoring wounded soldiers / decorated veterans, etc. Major sports leagues (especially baseball/football) and the military got put through the wringer in 2015 when they found tens of millions in sponsored ‘tributes,’ but when one avenue closes, another opens.

If you are seeing something at an amusement park, a concert/venue, or anywhere, there is a decent chance that the ‘we love the troops’ message was paid for by…. the troops.”

These displays at sporting events are a public relations blitz meant to create an association between the thrill of the game and the military!

16. War News

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A discerning Reddit user commented, “You don’t really think the information we are getting in the West on the conflict in Ukraine is unbiased, I hope? It’s not as bad as the propaganda back in Russia, but it’s certainly not neutral.”

Someone commented, “Trying to be more objective, also explaining the Russian narrative, explaining that the Ukrainian military violates human rights just as much as the Russians do. These are all things that are barely covered by the Western media.”

Another person pitched in to say, “We get a lot of “look what a stupid, incompetent, disorganized mess the Russian military is!”, and then see that it’s been holding parts of Ukraine the size of the state of New York for over a year. So clearly, there’s something less biased possible.”

They are trying to make us believe that we’ve got the whole story when, in reality, we’re only seeing a fraction of the picture.

17. Working Too Hard

Mean Boss in Office
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Sure, hard work is important, and achieving your goals often requires effort. But let’s not kid ourselves- equating long hours with virtue is a bit of a stretch. 

A Reddit user wrote, “The idea that hard work or working long hours is inherently virtuous.”

Someone else replied, “Particularly the idea that hard work or working long hours for your employer is inherently virtuous. I’m all for doing things that benefit yourself or the people you care about. There’s virtue in that. The idea that work outside of a formal job “doesn’t count” or “isn’t real” is super insidious, though.”

18. Feel-Good Stories

Attractive excited young girl wearing casual clothing standing isolated over blue background, celebrating success.
Image Credit: Dean Drobot/Shutterstock.

Think about it- these stories can sometimes act as a distraction from the real problems we face. While we’re getting teary-eyed over a cat adopting a baby squirrel, serious issues in our communities might need our attention. 

One Redditor stated, “Feel-good stories where an unprivileged individual does something to get something they need to continue to live.

Example: A little girl is starting a lemonade stand so she can afford insulin. You shouldn’t feel good about that story; you should be appalled that the richest country in the world also has one of the poorest populations in the world combined with being one of the most expensive countries in the world.”

Another replied, “You talking about Alex’s Lemonade Stand? I did one night at an auction as a volunteer. It was just rich people buying things at largely discounted prices, with the occasional high-five from young children who were being used as props. So it’s all bull.”

19. Fox News

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Fox News has a knack for highlighting certain stories while downplaying others. And when they do report on something, you can bet there’s often a spin on it, painting a certain narrative that aligns with their stance. 

Someone commented, “Fox News. All these {are bad}, but Fox is the most unbearable one for sure.”

Another person agreed to it and said, “Places like CNN and MSNBC and such, however biased or however one may feel about them, at least have actual investigative journalists and do actual journalism. Fox News by literal legal admission is “entertainment” and junk their viewers to an extraordinary degree.”

20. Nutrition Education

Horizontal view of pleased Korean woman holds freshly leafy vegetable,
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We must be informed about what fuels us and what might lead to health issues. But here’s where it gets interesting- who’s behind many nutrition education efforts? Big food companies, government agencies, and even certain interest groups. 

A Reddit user wrote, “Nutrition education, at least in the United States.”

Someone else replied, “In 6th grade, one of our students pointed out that the Food Pyramid poster was sponsored by the American Dairy Council or something like that. He was way ahead of his time. He illustrated that the pyramid was complete fiction. That was 50 years ago.”

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This article was produced and syndicated by A Dime Saved.