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Mini-com course #3 : mass communication and manipulation

Emmanuel Tourpe

The series ” Mini-com courses ” was born from the fertile imagination of my friend Emmanuel Tourpe during the coronavirus crisis. Emmanuel is a well-known professor of communication and philosophy; he is also the director of programming at ARTE (hence the reference to this channel in his text). His com mini-courses, originally published on his Facebook profile, deserved to be shared with as many people as possible. I thank him for agreeing to have them posted here.

After the mini-course on the different levels of communication (n°1), and the one on convincing without manipulating (n°2), this is the 3rd opus that we propose to you today.

MMini-com course n°3:

The hypodermic syringe and other frog stories

Harold Dwight Lasswell

Harold Dwight Lasswell

Memorable anecdote: the inventor of “political communication” is also the foremost theorist of “propaganda”. Ah ah, that is to say… His name is Harold Lasswell (1902-1978).

All com students are familiar with the Lasswell “5 W’s” (or 5 Q’s in French) which allow you to break down a message, whatever it may be, into 5 questions to ask yourself: Who says What to Whom on What medium with What effect? This makes it possible to check that all the elements of communication have been taken into account. For example: when I write an email, I must remember that on this medium my emotions are not expressed: it is a “cold” medium, which will lend itself to multiple interpretations since the reader will have to imagine my state of mind.

But Lasswell is also the mastermind of mind control. He’s the one who provided some of the most significant theories on how to manipulate crowds through the media. He called the effect of the press a “hypodermic syringe”: a needle that injects its contents without anyone even noticing. Another more popular version is the well-known story of the live frogs that are slowly cooked in water that is gradually heated.

Lasswell’s idea is that the messages conveyed in mass communication gradually pass into people’s consciousness without them realising it. A simple example: the obsession of television news (except that of Arte! ?) by the Coronavirus alone makes us gradually lose the sense of other realities: those of migrants parked in Greece, of the slave markets in Libya, or even what is happening in countries other than our own. There is an underlying message that is gradually passing through our minds.

This is true of a whole set of elements of our everyday culture: our relationship to money, ethics, work and family is shaped without our being aware of it by a very small milieu. Parisian or Brussels journalists who instil us with their vision of the world.

Let this confinement be an opportunity to review our ways of thinking and to educate ourselves to the media: by looking at or reading other sources of information than usual (Arte, Courier international…). We must kill the BFM Buddha inside us. Everything can be put at a distance and rethought. It’s a chance against the hypodermic syringe.



Pierre-Nicolas est Docteur en Marketing et dirige l'agence d'études de marché IntoTheMinds. Ses domaines de prédilection sont le BigData l'e-commerce, le commerce de proximité, l'HoReCa et la logistique. Il est également chercheur en marketing à l'Université Libre de Bruxelles et sert de coach et formateur à plusieurs organisations et institutions publiques. Il peut être contacté par email, Linkedin ou par téléphone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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