Goebbels, Hitler’s propagandist, and the lies he inspires in PH
MANILA, Philippines—More than 70 years since the end of Adolf Hitler’s evil empire in 1945, social media has unleashed thousands of versions of Joseph Goebbels, the propagandist who helped Hitler rise to power and exterminate at least six million people just because they were Jews.
As Goebbels found success in his propaganda strategies, one tactic he so efficiently employed to keep the German people enthralled by the Nazis was the indiscriminate use of lies or falsehoods.
“Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes truth,” Goebbels had said at the height of the Nazis’ power, explaining his biggest propaganda strategy.
Goebbels succeeded in the massive use of lies at a time when the source of news, whether fake or real, was limited to newspapers, films, radio broadcasts and word-of-mouth.
That power to deceive has been multiplied countless of times by social media in the age of the internet.
Goebells’ tactics have found parallels in social media-crazy Philippines, especially in its politics.
One example is the continuing attempt to rewrite history about martial law, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his family.
In 2016, the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) reported that from 1986 to 2016, P170.97 billion have been retrieved by the government from an estimated P253 billion to P506 billion of the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth.
But social media accounts, with names that are either aliases or fictitious but clearly followers of Marcos, fill the internet with tales about Marcos, his more than 20-year reign and how he got hold of all his wealth.
Among the posts by the pro-Marcos social media accounts were that the late dictator did not steal money and became rich because his services as a lawyer were paid with “192,000 tons of gold by the Tallanos” referring to a fictitious clan which was supposed to have ruled the pre-colonial Philippines then supposed to be known as the Kingdom of Maharlika.
The gold angle persisted. Other claims made, including by former First Lady Imelda Marcos, were that Marcos got rich because he discovered the fabled Yamashita treasure.
Marcos’ human rights record was also fed to the social media machine of lies.
The New York-based Amnesty International said during martial law, 3,257 people were killed, 34,000 were abused and tortured, 70,000 were imprisoned, while 878 went missing.
Thousands of online content, all posted on social media by Marcos followers using aliases or fictitious names, said all those who had been killed during martial law were communist guerrillas. From 1972 to 1986, the Marcos followers’ posts claimed, “if a person follows the law, there’s nothing to fear.”
Economic numbers during the Marcos dictatorship also became fodder for the social media grist mill.
According to data from Martial Law Museum, Philippine foreign debt during the Marcos years spiked from 0.36 billion dollars in 1961 to 28.26 billion dollars by the time Marcos was thrown out of power in 1986. Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate estimated that Filipinos would continue to pay for debts incurred under Marcos until 2025.
But pro-Marcos accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Tiktok, using aliases or fictitious names, are feeding the social media platforms with unverifiable information that the debts went to infrastructure projects, like San Juanico Bridge and Lung Center of the Philippines, and none to the pockets of the Marcoses.
The power of lies
Goebbels’ success in deception had been well documented.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) said the office which Goebbels headed had the goal to ensure that the message of the Nazi regime will be “successfully communicated.”
It said the Nazis “used propaganda to disguise their political aims and deceive the German and international public” by depicting Germany as the victim of Jewish aggression “to hide their true ideological goals.”
This was realized through art, music, theater, films, books, radio, education, and the press. “Germans were reminded of the struggle against foreign enemies and Jewish subversion.”
The USHMM said the deception was designed to “fool or misdirect” people in Germany, lands occupied by Germans and other “neutral” nations. “Propaganda was an important tool to win over most of the Germans,” it said.
How did Goebbels realize these? Here’s a look back by USHMM:
This played a significant role in disseminating “racial antisemitism,” the strength of German military power, and the intrinsic evil of the enemies as defined by the Nazis. The films “portrayed Jews as ‘subhuman’ creatures.”
In Germany, especially the Der Stürmer, cartoons were drawn depicting Jews as antisemitic. After the beginning of World War II in 1939, the Jews were likewise portrayed as “dangerous enemies” of Hitler’s regime.
• The people
The regime, the USHMM said, employed propaganda “effectively” to have the Germans back its wars of conquest. It was also essential in “motivating” those who implemented the program to mass murder the Jews.
The USHMM said the Nazi regime’s Holocaust led to the “persecution and murder” of six million Jews, including women and children. The Nazis were relentless in deception.
It said the Nazis deceived Germans, the victims, and other nations regarding the killing of Jews.
“Positive stories” were also fabricated as part of the deception. One booklet that was printed in 1941 narrated that in Poland, German officials had put Jews to work.
The booklet, the USHMM said, also claimed that German officials “built clean hospitals, set up soup kitchens for Jews, and provided them with newspapers and vocational training.”
These ways to deceive individuals, 76 years since Goebbels’ bloody death, were evident as thousands make a bid to change the past and have Marcos seen as a hero.
The revision campaign claimed that Marcos was the best president the country ever had but was destroyed by dilawans, or groups and politicians affiliated with the late Corazon Aquino, whose campaign color was yellow.
The ongoing revisionist propaganda was reminiscent of Goebbels’ tactic of massive lying—painting the opposing camps as enemies and villains, as sources of misery. Alternative versions of history are being propagated through social media.
In one instance, a YouTube video said the late President Corazon Aquino and former President Fidel Ramos were the ones who “destroyed the Philippines.”
Ma. Lourdes Sereno, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court said that to have Filipinos blame Aquino for current high electricity rates, a fake video clip of Marcos asking Aquino to open the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was spread on social media.
But Sereno said it was Marcos himself, through Letter of Instruction No. 957 issued when he was still in power, said nuclear energy “is not safe” and had “a potential hazard to health and safety of the public.”
Eerily similar to positive, but untruthful stories spread by and about the Nazis during Hitler’s time, many online content in the Philippines had positive narratives about Marcos and his dictatorship. In one instance, a video claimed Marcos was not a villain and the late Benigno Aquino Jr. was “NPA king.”
Psychologist Tom Stafford told BBC in 2016 that “repetition makes a fact seem more true, regardless of whether it is or not.” He said this is known, especially to psychologists, as the “illusion of truth.”
Not linked to Marcoses?
While it was not established if the online propaganda was initiated by the Marcoses, the late dictator’s children repeatedly deny the rights violations and theft committed by Marcos during martial law, the Philippine Social Science Council said.
In October, 47.4 percent of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s 917,000 Twitter followers were found to be fake through analytics tool SparkToro.
“Fake followers,” as defined by the analytics tool, were “accounts that are unreachable and will not see the account’s tweets either because they’re spam, bots, propaganda, etc. or because they’re no longer active on Twitter.”
In 2018, Facebook took down 95 pages and 39 accounts, including those linked to Imee Marcos, one of the late dictator’s children, and President Rodrigo Duterte because of violations of “spam and authentication policies.”
The pages and accounts, Facebook said, were “encouraging people to visit low quality websites that contain little substantive content and are full of disruptive ads.”
Pandemic not spared
The deception machinery being allowed by social media platforms to thrive did not spare the COVID-19 pandemic.
When COVID-19 hit in 2020, thousands said the disease was created in Wuhan and was a “biological weapon” from China. In the Philippines, police investigated 15 individuals allegedly spreading lies about COVID-19.
In 2020, there were also posts which said that the military will employ helicopters to spray substances, including pesticides, to fight COVID-19 in Luzon. The government, however, said that it never had plans to do these.
On COVID-19 vaccines, false claims spread that the United States was developing vaccines with a microchip to track individuals. The “message” asked Filipinos not to have themselves vaccinated as the “needle is different.”
There were also posts which said that COVID-19 vaccines have “fetuses” and the individuals vaccinated will die two years after.
Marcos statement in 2016
In 2016, days before the late dictator’s remains were buried quietly at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, Imee, who was still the governor of Ilocos Norte then, said, “We’re not rewriting history, we’re not changing the truth.”
She explained on ANC that cases, especially about corruption, continue to be pending. “We continue to fight them in court. We are still defending ourselves and defending his memory,” she said.
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