The history of modern technical propaganda

Marketing is a powerful force multiplier that can have a profound impact on all areas of technology, including the domain of free and open source software (FOSS). When deceptive tactics and distortions become a strategic choice, marketing can devolve into propaganda. This series will explore the origins of propaganda, public relations, and marketing, before we unpack some questionable marketing tactics we’re seeing in the modern FOSS landscape.
Chapter 1

Understanding propaganda in today's technology landscape

For well over a hundred years, public relations and marketing teams have helped shape the technical landscape by driving much needed investment and revenues to tech companies with potential to do good. The technology industry can learn from the history of propaganda to promote technical education while avoiding indoctrination, and help to preserve the integrity of the open source software ethos.
Chapter 2

The original format wars

In the late 1800s, a technical propaganda war was brewing between the Continental Edison Company and the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company. The stakes were tremendous: the standardization and domination of the American power grid. The electrical current war was a race to influence public opinion, with one company doing so by any means necessary.
Chapter 3

The origin story of propaganda

The concept of propaganda – as we think of it today – originated much earlier than the industrialization era. It began with the formation of a literate society and the invention of the printing press. In order to understand the difference between propaganda and marketing spin, we need to travel back in time to the 1600s.
Chapter 4

Westinghouse creates the first public relations team

After hundreds of gruesome electrocution displays of criminals and animals at carnivals and events across America, the general public was ready to believe Edison's propaganda that AC was dangerous and DC was safe. The Westinghouse Company needed to win back public support for AC. A key strategic decision would inspire the creation of the public relations and marketing professions.
Chapter 5

The evolution of public relations and psychoanalysis

Arguably the two most important men you may never have heard of are Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee. Bernays created the first marketing firm, and Lee became the first public relations executive in corporate history. By infusing wartime propaganda techniques with Freudian psychology into both professions, their innovations from the early 1900s continue to shape every facet of modern life.
Chapter 6

Benchmarketing and the Texas Sharpshooter

The Texas sharpshooter fallacy occurs when someone selectively focuses on a subset of data from a larger set, ignoring the rest, to support a specific conclusion. This fallacy isn't simply a statistical error – it's often an embraced strategy in the modern technical marketing playbook, dangerously echoing the work of Bernays.
Chapter 7

How to destroy open source with fauxpen license shifting

Fauxpen is the illusion of being committed to open source without aligning to any of its principles, as measured by actions rather than words. Left unchecked, repeated campaigns of proprietary license shifting and destructive marketing tactics afterward threatens the very fabric of free and open source software (FOSS).
This work by Kevin Webber is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.