Examples of propaganda backfiring

Been reading about the Eastern Front in WWII, or the Great Patriotic War as the Russians call it - a death struggle between two rival tyrannies where propaganda obviously played a big role on both sides. But when you’re running a state on lies, exaggeration and plain old bullshit not everything is a winner.

For example Red Army troops has been indoctrinated with a total hatred of all things German - when they entered German territory this lead to them going on mad rampages and destroying potentially valuable equipment. Propaganda attempted an awkward 180 but it was too late.

On the German side they bigged up their efforts behind Soviet front lines - which were pretty piss poor in reality. The Soviets used it as an excuse to crack down on any opposition to their rule as fascist stay-behinds and strengthened their control. Oops.

What other examples can you think of where a propaganda effort backfired? I imagine the Cultural Revolution or Great Leap Forward would be another place to look for examples but my Chinese history is a little rusty.

Cracked offers up some more recent examples like Air Force One’s flyby of NYC that scared the shit out of people and Iraq’s ‘Comical Ali’ who trumpeted victory while Abrams tanks practically rolled in behind him

If you consider Abstinence-Only Education to be propaganda, that tends to backfire in for the form of more unwanted pregnancies and more STDs.

For the record, Abstinence-Only Education doesn’t just teach people that they should abstain from sex until married, it goes further than that. They don’t even discuss sex in education. So when a kid asks how to use a condom, the answer is “Doesn’t matter, you’re not going to need one any time soon” or when a kid asks about STDs or how to get tested the teacher tells them it doesn’t matter because they won’t be having sex until they get married anyways. So, suddenly you have all these 17 and 18 and 19 year old kids who are full of hormones, ready to have sex, want to have sex, are having sex and have no idea what they’re doing. They don’t know how to protect themselves and end up pregnant or with an STD.

This could also be said, in one way or another, for all sorts of health education programs. When I was in high school, we got to listen to over-the-top anti-smoking propaganda also. And anti-drug propaganda was often a hoot. How many college kids (and maybe even high school kids) toked up while having a good laugh watching Reefer Madness?

If you like your health care plan, you can keep it,

Remember when Palin pardoned a Thanksgiving turkey while turkeys were being slaughtered in the background? Good times.

From memory, and possibly anecdotal: There was a campaign in India intended to reduce births and thus population. The argument was made by a poster comparing family life: one picture was overcrowded, the family eating rice and beans and other bulk food of the poor, one child obviously mentally affected, the mother wearing tattered traditional garb. The other showed just two children, in an obviously better-off household, the mother fashionably dressed and the father eating a sumptuous dinner. The campaign backfired because all who saw it set about about having as many children as possible… because that fostered traditional roles, a healthy traditional diet and could bring a child who was touched by madness and thus holy. They shunned the choice that led to indolence, women getting out of their place and a family eating forbidden meat.

I think there are other examples, some true and some apocryphal, of such comparisons being reversed by a semiliterate audience.

The lingering effects of American Cold War propaganda have resulted in a continuing inability of many Americans to see Russian and Chinese people as human beings, and to understand the history of those countries or of how people there think today.

That’s not propoganda, that’s a meaningless photo op.

Anyone remember the “War on Drugs”? That’s become such a joke, no one bothers to use that term anymore except as a jest – like that famous “Your Brain on Drugs” commercial became parody fodder as soon as it hit the airwaves.

The fact that alcohol and cigarettes are considered bad makes them more appealing to young people.

I’ve heard that during WWII, Japan bought Germany’s propaganda about how the Jews were controlling everything… And responded by actively trying to encourage Jews to move to Japan, because anyone with that much power would make a good ally.

I find heavy handed propaganda to make you want to do the opposite. Awhile back they had those anti-smoking “Truth” commercials. Made me want to chain smoke a whole pack to spite them. I don’t smoke. I thought Requiem for a Dream was a bit much at times, too.

Highlights magazine had a section called “Goofus & Gallant.” It was always stuff like “Goofus blows up a mailbox with firecrackers. Gallant helps his parents sort the mail.” So Goofus comes off as a dick, especially in a 50s way, but still does cooler things.

Fictionally, there’s that South Park where Mr. Mackey harangues to kids to not try getting high of cat pee or choking yourself to get a hypoxia high. Of course none of them were aware these were options until mentioned.

A plan to settle Jews in Shanghai or Manchuria, tellingly called the ‘Fugu Plan’ after the delicacy which is poisonous is not prepared right. Interestingly they thought the Protocols were genuine but rather than hatred it was designed for it evidently provoked mixed feelings of envy and admiration in the Japanese.

Thanks for the examples, I remember the Chinese examples I was thinking of - the ‘Four Pests Campaign’ in which everyone was encouraged by the government to kill sparrows to stop them eating grains. Unfortunately the sparrows also ate insects, without the sparrows they bred and devastated agriculture.

Oh and the backyard furnaces - claiming that peasants could create quality steel out of scrap, only for them to end up destroying useful tools to meet quotas and ended up with pig iron.

This is practically a book-length webpage on psyops (psychological operations) mistakes going back to WWI, including some real howlers from as recently as our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For example, don’t put the Saudi Arabian flag on a soccer ball for Afghani kids. Why not? Click the spoiler button:

The Saudi Arabian flag contains the shahada, which is the Islamic declaration of faith (“There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet.”) and the people in the region consider feet to be massively unclean and insulting, so putting the shahada on something you kick is just a bit worse than greeting your Southern Baptist neighbor with a picture of Jesus in booty shorts and a tight shirt in the colors of the pride flag.

Also, the VC and the NVA don’t really give a damn about the ace of spades. Just putting that out there.

I think that’s different that Abstinence-Only Education. DARE and anti smoking programs give the kids information about drugs, alcohol, smoking etc. Yes, I’ll give you that DARE went a over the top with the scare tactics but that’s for another thread. The schools were still educating kids about the dangers of drugs, tobacco, alcohol etc. For it to be like an abstinence only program it would have to be that the schools just didn’t teach the kids about them at all and just told them not to do drugs or not to smoke or not to drink and left it at that.

Yes, some kids smoked because of the anti-smoking programs, but let’s be honest, they were probably going to anyways. At least this way, they knew what they were getting into. If they were told nothing more about it other than that they shouldn’t do it, then they wouldn’t really have any reason not to do it other than that someone told them not to.

There’s the story of Romanian state television showing episodes of “Dallas” back in the 80s so the populace could see how corrupt the American capitalist system was. What most people took away from it, though, was that Americans lived glamorous lives like the Ewings.

I think the “axis of evil” meme, which was propagandistic in intent, backfired. While it may have served to ginger up people who were already supporters of the Bush position, it mostly served to attract ridicule, and to portray the Bush administration as geopolitically ignorant to an astonishing degree - an impression that persists to this day, I think, although I doubt that “axis of evil” is the sole reason for that.

Probably not exactly what you’re lookng for, but in World War II, the Allies developed a leaflet that Japanese soldiers could display with the words “I Cease Resistance” on it. The original version had the words “I Surrender” but there were completely ineffective as the concept of surrender was considered the ultimate in shame.

I’ve seen something similar meant to encourage women in some African country to lose weight. One picture showed an overweight woman holding a broom in one hand and her back with the other. It was meant to show that her back hurt too much to do chores like sweep under a table. The other picture showed a normal weight woman sweeping under a table.

But the message most of the target audience took away was that the overweight woman was rich and didn’t have to do chores. Instead, she hired the other woman, who was obviously poorer, to do them for her.

There is photo op of Chinese government official visiting an 103 year old woman to show how the Chinese government cares for its nation’s elderlyhttp://www.washingtontimes.com/multimedia/image/241842473jpg/

Unfortunately, due to a case of exceptionally poor Photoshopping, it’s clear that both the officials and the woman were removed from other photos and set into a third phot. One of the men is clearly cut half from the waist up and the woman’s image was correctly scaled up to appear to be lifelike. The resulting photo looks like the low quality fraud that it isn’t supposed to be.

Equally unfortunate is that the Washington Times, as close to useless as you can get in a major American newspaper, was one of the few Western media outlets to catch this.

Didn’t it also help provoke Iran and North Korea into restarting their nuclear weapons programs?