russian propaganda doesn't give you ideas on how to build a better world, it just makes you hate the way things are.
If a person learns that they have been lied to, it would be very hard to earn the trust back. Fool me once - shame on you, fool me twice - shame on me. A propaganda machine built on lies is a fragile one. An example of this would be the Soviet Union. But there is a way around this, that the modern world of interconnectedness has discovered. Let's say you believe a joke post, which only those who "get the reference" would recognize to be a display of wit and irony. You wouldn't really blame the joke-teller for telling it if the lie sounds like hyperbole, over-exaggeration or an emotional outburst then it is easier to blame yourself for not recognizing it than to be angry at someone for successfully fooling you with "bio lab supersoldiers in Ukraine".
Now, when we interact with a consumer of Kremin BS, we react with "How could you believe such nonsense, it was clearly a lie", which feels insulting and pushes them down the rabbit hole even further. Now, should we try to be more tolerant and considerate? Sounds like the right thing to do. But we tried, I tried - just makes you seem more suspicious and "off", which further cements the sense of isolation in the person affected by propaganda. Be yourself, don't filter your emotions.
How to fight
Being honest and brave, admitting when you yourself fell for the propaganda is a strong move.
Also, be interesting. Don't bore people. Trying to fight propaganda by pure frustration will not work. The easiest way is to embrace some of the populist conspiracy talking points. For example:
- We can never know the truth of what is really happening.
Reply: I think the government wants us to believe that so that we would stop searching for answers.
- But we are just pawns in the bigger game, played by powerful entities.
Reply: Yeah, they want people to follow like sheep. They use fear to guide us where they want us. The plan was to give Ukraine to russia, there was probably some deal made behind the scenes. Nobody was helping us, no strong statements. But after we fought back, they had no choice but to start helping. Otherwise, every country in the world would decide that they also need to have a nuclear arsenal to be safe from the bigger neighbour. And that is not something anyone wants.
Who would support that?
If we ignore China, Belarus, Victor Orban and russia itself for a moment, then there aren't many surprises there. It will be hard to find a person who would go through their life doing their own thing, and then suddenly start supporting the invasion of Ukraine. It is always someone who deeply associates their public image with love for russia, and hate for the West. So now, they have to double down.
Internal vs. external propaganda
There are barely any mentions of "brotherly nations" in russia's internal messaging as they teach their people to believe in the superiority of russians. And you can often hear "Anglo-Saxons" in their media - there is a lot of racism in all of it. The "brotherly" was designed to communicate the message: "This war is a family business, stay out". For example, the famous "drown those children" guy also talked about traditional Ukrainian huts - just one more clue that they are very much aware of how distinct and different our people are.
On the other hand, the Nazi narrative did not go well in the West, given that president of Ukraine has Jewish origins. Zelenskyi was saying things like "I'll look Putin in the eyes and see peace there, we will negotiate". All this before being elected with a record-breaking majority of Ukrainians. While the coalition of radical and militaristic parties got less than 2%.
The reason that the Nazi narrative exists is that it is their internal propaganda that spilt into an external one. While we associate nazis with Holocaust, the russians do not. They had Gulags back in the day, with basically the same genocidal concept. Nazis for them are something different...
This will start making sense once you consider who the Nazis were from Russia's standpoint: for them, Germany was a traitor. Hitler broke the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and attacked russia, while Red Army was busy invading Finland and other Baltic states. The torture and sadism we hear about from occupied territories, where, as putin claimed, "native russians" live, is not random, but encouraged by the "punish/educate traitors" rhetoric.
Russia doesn't recognize 1939 as the year when world war 2 started, but rather - June 22, 1941, when Hitler stopped being russia's ally.
Many say that russia is a mix of many different ideologies. But in my personal opinion, they have none. All I see there is constant frustration. They don't position themselves as a competition for the West but as an "alternative". The "We are not better, just different" theme is prevalent. Their external message is: "If you hate anything about America, join us".
Vladimir Putin - the president of russia, is a paedophile. Just watch this if you are not sure:
At the very least he made a child porn video to save Boris Yeltsin from corruption scandal by jailing the prosecutor. And there is the death bad statement of a KGB agent, who straight up said it: "Putin is a paedophile".
Now, the spread of russian propaganda made many believe that the cancelling of russian culture is an irrational hatred of Dostoevsky, Vodka and Lermontov. Which, obviously, it isn't. We also refer to it as "Rape culture". I don't think I need to explain why. Their invasions of Syria, Georgia and Ichkeria demonstrate the points better than any reasoning could. But if I were to describe its effects on individual civilians, I would point out "Entitlement to respect". If you say to a person "Back off" - this may not be the most elegant way to request some space, but in most civilized countries it would be an ok way to respond to unwanted interactions. In russian culture though asking someone to go away ("отвали") may be considered offensive. If they were to visit a resort and sense any "disrespect", they are likely to trash the hotel room as a punishment for that.
Now, obviously, this kind of behaviour is not sustainable, as people will accumulate grudges.
Why support the invasion of Ukraine
... because we never respected them. And, obviously, never will. For us, russians are putin's slaves. Their country is 17 times larger than ours, and yet, they are losing. Their frustration at their failures and complete lack of desire to improve makes them seem even more impotent. Respecting them is equal to disrespecting yourself.
While all respectable researchers in unison state that sexual orientation depends very largely on born factors, russian propaganda says it is always a choice. Now, I would like everyone to remember themselves at puberty: was your first uncomfortable moment influenced by rational reasoning, or did it happen automatically? No trauma or reasoning can change our orientation, especially at that age when hormones take charge. Our bodies are largely autonomous systems, things work no matter if you are on the bus or presenting in front of the class.
While we associate the term "influencer" with product placement and pushing video games onto kids, Kremlin realized there is room in the world for their kind of influencers. This place is: "Let's hear both sides of the story".
If you were to invite an expert on military aid for Ukraine and a pro-Russian person - that would be ok. But instead of inviting a putin fan/war supporter, the media looks for someone more moderate, someone who claims to have a "slightly different view on the situation" and is ready to talk about how "it is all very complicated". The russian propaganda machine is huge, micro-managing it would have been difficult. So the only goal for most of their people is to stay in the news space and never say a bad thing about russia or putin.
And those are to watch out for. Someone who doesn't offer any realistic solutions only keeps talking a lot.
The way bad propaganda works is not by lying to you, the point is to make you feel like you can never say what you think. A person living in a free society has no serious reason not to speak their mind. But to "brainwash" someone, the first step is to make sure they will not "unbrainwash" themselves by communicating with others in society.
All brilliant things are simple, the evolution of the Kremlin machine ended up in a word replacement exercise. It is as simple as saying exactly what you want to say but replacing certain words with other words:
genocide becomes denazification
enslavement -> demilitarization
the war against democracy -> war with NATO
Ukrainian people, the ideology of freedom and dignity -> Kyiv regime
Democratic Revolution -> a coup
Fear by itself makes people cautious and pushes us to protect ourselves and take action to fix and improve things. Which is a good thing, and not what benefits putin. So he will never threaten anyone directly. It will always be "If you do A, you will force us to do B", "We did X because you made us do X".
It doesn't really work all that well, but it did work on the russian population and subjects to external russian propaganda.
The paralyzing fear of consequences is more persistent, and lingering, as it forces you to evaluate every step for potential mistakes constantly. Understanding their formula can help us recognize the thought process behind every seemingly bizarre act.
The Free World
Social Media algorithms teach us that it is certain words that are bad. It is easy to write a hateful post on Facebook and not have it banned if you just replace "hateful" words with "non-hateful". This is where propaganda's word-replacement exercise came from.
Russian form of racism
Another distortion comes from the kind of content we are interacting with on social media. We discuss celebrities, politicians and companies, criticize them and decide if they are ethical/unethical, "good" or "bad". It is healthy to have that sort of discussion.
But russia makes a racist spin on it: "russians are good", which brings an implication, as "good" and "bad" are relatively subjective terms: if they are good, then who is "bad"? Which race, ethnicity, nation or religion do they consider "bad"?
In reality, it doesn't matter if they are "bad", as the world is interested only in punishment: it isn't a bad person being punished for being bad to stop it from being bad, but rather A person being punished for a crime to discourage anyone from repeating that crime.
Cult of Deat
Russians, like all humans, aren't robots. We all want to feel good, have something to be proud of, and look forward to. For russians it is the conquest, the act of domination, and the promise of the demise of the enemy. The wars are their primetime show.
In bed with the devil
The Invasion of Ukraine yielded no new allies for putin, only some old ones who doubled down.
Example: Elon Musk. If he were to say: "Genocide of Ukrainians is bad, putin should stop bombing power plans because this is winter and the people will freeze to death." - sounds like a non-statement, something self-implied. But, if Elon were to actually say those words (or Tweet them) then the question would arise: "But why did you support putin when he bombed Aleppo(Syria), Ichkeria, invaded Georgia, Moldova, killed protestors in Belarus, poisoned Ukrainian president, invaded Ukraine in 2014?" And there is no good answer to this question. Because in reality, nothing has changed about russia. Nothing has changed about its culture. It only became less convenient to support, because of Ukrainians.
Mysterious russian soul
"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" - is something we tell ourselves to feel better whenever we are down. But this idea got pushed to its absolute limit in russian culture. It was used not by individuals, but by the government from television screens. It stopped serving the comforting purpose and starts perverting people's minds to the point of bad=good. That is the reason Ukrainians call russia an "Upside-Down country". All the negative socially-economical problems are always flipped as something, actually, positive.
They have internet, they know what is happening. At the beginning of the invasion, Ukraine organized a call centre to inform russian citizens about the truth and have them organize protests.
Didn't work, russians like death, war, and tragedy. One of the russian classic writers wrote a story about a man killing a dog he loved. Some argue about the deep meaning of it. But really, it was just about killing someone because you were told to.
RT is a media source that is considered by many as "russian news but in English". Which it absolutely isn't. They literally read what the West is writing about and reply to it. But not actually replying - that would imply a recognition of the arguments by the other side or rebuking them. Instead, they play stupid: if West is writing about crimes by Wagner mercenaries in Africa, they will instead write about a hospital bombing by US troops back in the day and pretend to be outraged and deeply traumatized by it. "America did that, we are also outraged and scared of it".
The best way to "teach" people propaganda is by example. The propaganda show will not explicitly say what it wants to say but will keep dancing around the bush with all possible tangents until the shape is clearly defined.
That is why people who are exposed to it for the long term tend to see a hidden subtext in every sentence they hear. It is not that they believe it is there, but rather that it is the opportunity to pursue the main goal - to spread propaganda.
Sure, even straightforward public statements have more to them if you dig deep, but the propaganda wouldn't go into analysis, but instead imagine every word to be a Freudian slip and every joke to be a subtle taunting or a nod. Especially if the statement is direct, curated and not fueled by clear emotions.
This is evident by the fact that propagandists, despite often hunting for those Freudian slips, are more likely to look for them in prepared statements rather than in live improvised talk shows, where it is easier to make mistakes.
This will also make the person watching fearful of expressing oneself without emotional context. This is evident by the fact that affected people often express themselves in the context of anger.
Another component is "power". You will not find propagandists using Warhammer 40K Lore to push their propaganda. They always "attach" themselves to things you can't detach from, like politics & economy.
Victims of such manipulations (a.k.a. russians, MAGA) are often extremely patient, saying just the right things, even too right at times: "I'm against all violence", and "Life is the most important thing". Those are good things to say in general. But when you are attacked on the street, you'd want friends, ready for violence, by your side. As tolerance of evil is evil itself.
How to save people from brainwashing
My experience is based on a family member of mine. Helping them see that the world is full of people who get it, who understand what is what. Also, I didn't believe that they actually believe what they are saying. I wasn't aggressive about it, but it helped me to ask the right questions, as instead of questioning their sanity, I was questioning their lie.
The best questions to ask are the "What if?" kind of questions: "If you were to learn that this wasn't done for that reason, would you still support that person?" - kind of questions.