Our Methodology

The web-based platform behind www.propwatch.org, also known as The Propwatch Project (TPP), is an online database platform that can isolate and catalogue video segments of propaganda from embedded video and be queried to produce narrowly-tailored arrays of examples for viewing and analysis. TPP's underlying treatment methodology is based on a messaging strategy of inoculation or "refutational preemption," a social psychological/communication theory which has been shown to be effective at protecting individual attitudes and beliefs against devices of manipulation and influence.

What is Inoculation?

A messaging strategy of inoculation is analogous to the medical inoculation process, whereby a subject is exposed to a threat in order to build up his or her immune response, which will be triggered again when a real threat is encountered. This not only bolsters the original recipient's immediate resistance to propagandist messaging, but also builds resistance to future challenges. Beyond the original recipient, this same inoculation process motivates "postinoculation talk," which is the viral effect of those individuals who receive an inoculation message sharing that message with others.

But for inoculation be effective, the message receiver must first be able to identify the threat, which is why we showcase only authentic content. It's one thing to read the definition of a propaganda technique or watch a scripted video describing it; it's another to see the technique being used in a national debate by a past or present elected official.

How Effective is this Approach?

In order to assess the project's impact on website viewers, we've developed a series of impact assessments to gather data on viewers' ability to detect propaganda through exposure to instances of propaganda techniques in authentic use.

Based on our current controlled study data, as of July 2021, our participants' ability to identify propaganda improved 44.17% after only 90 minutes of viewing selected content on the propwatch.org website. See more about our latest research here.

Transparency of Methodology

Our methodology for deconstructing political speech is unique. Once a video clip is analyzed and an instance of propaganda identified, it is documented in the form of a "play-by-play" comment. When determining whether a statement demonstrates a certain technique, we are looking for patterns that match signatures of the approximately 80 techniques that make up the site glossary.

We analyze all videos clips with two analysts working independently on the same clip. After both analysts have finished their work, we then compare the results for instances where the same technique was identified at the same timecode by both analysts. The video clip is then independently reviewed by an editor. If the editor doesn't confirm a strong signature match, the comment is deleted from the database. If both analysts and editor confirm a strong signature match to a glossary technique, the comment is added to the database.

For example, when identifying a statement that uses minimization- characterizing something that's difficult to deny as trivial or insignificant, before shifting the focus to "more important" things.
, there should be present a clear structural pattern of trivializing something that is being scrutinized, followed by a deflection to something the speaker promotes as being more important. When a match is detected, the comment that follows must clearly spell out the matter being trivialized as factual, followed by identifying who or what the focus is being shifted to.

When identifying a statement as an appeal to compromised authority- insisting something is true because an expert or authority on the issue says it's true, when that authority is compromised or has a vested interest in the outcome.
, the comment that follows must indicate how the authority cited in the statement is biased or has a vested interest in the outcome, providing a link to a reliable source that details that bias or spells out a clear conflict of interest with the authority being cited.

While all signature matches go through this 3-step verification process, the comment itself must adhere to rigid syntactical guidelines, which are exclusive to each technique in the site glossary. If a comment does not meet this standard, it is revised or deleted from the database.

With that said, there isn't any actual scientific formula that is 100% objective for identifying propaganda. There are objective measures that can be devised and employed, but ultimately there is always some degree of subjective judgment involved when making these determinations.