Tag Archives: propaganda

Iranian propaganda tries to pass $20 children’s Halloween costume as an astronaut suit

Iran has a young but fledgling space program that’s making some pretty good progress considering the nation’s space agency was founded in 2005. However, a recent botched propaganda campaign severely hit Iran’s credibility after Minister of Information and Communications Technology Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi tweeted what he claimed to be an Iranian astronaut suit. In reality, the astronaut costume is a children’s Halloween costume that you can buy on Amazon for $20. Talk about an epic fail!


Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi, who is a former intelligence officer, published his tweet with the fake astronaut costume and the caption  “astronaut costume #bright_future” on Feb. 4. The tweet, which has since been deleted, quickly became the subject of ridicule on social media after others found that the flimsy astronaut suit was actually a modified children’s costume.

The circle-shaped protrusion and another rectangle-shaped one on the breast of the suit tipped people off that there was something peculiar at play. As it turns out, these areas correspond to the NASA logo and a name patch that had been stripped off the Halloween costume.

Credit: Amazon.

This isn’t the first time that Iran has embarrassed itself trying to boast about embellished capabilities. In 2013, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps published a press release unveiling the so-called Qaher-313 stealth fighter. But what was supposed to be a frightening high-tech jet meant to sow panic in the hearts of Israel, the U.S., and their allies, was, in fact, a mock-up airplane.

Fake Qaher-313 flying through a fake skyline.

The ruse was so plain and evident that everyone simply laughed at this pitiful attempt at muscle-flexing. Journalists have even found that the design of the jet doesn’t allow it to carry bombs or even fly for that matter. Meanwhile, Tehran insisted that the project was real and that it was already flying. What a joke!

“The western media policy is to tell you that the Qaher is a moke-up. This is a cheap talk and shows that enemies are worried about Iran’s advancements in several fields, including defense industries,” Iran’s Defence Minister at the time, Ahmad Vahidi, said in a statement.

Domestically, Iran’s propaganda is even worse. Last year, during the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, billboards in the country absurdly suggested that Iran was responsible for building the space shuttle!

Graphics like these were advertised on billboards throughout Iran, implying the country had something to do with the space shuttle and its achievements. The artist even drew “I R A N” on the back of the shuttle in this illustration. Credit: Twitter.

Iran would be better off minding its own business and actually funding real science rather than using its extensive propaganda machine to bolster its image. Not only is this propaganda clearly not working, but it’s actually making Iran look foolish.

In the last decade, Iran has launched several satellites into orbit but its most recent track record hasn’t been the best. On February 9, the nation launched a communications satellite called Zafar 1 atop a Simorgh rocket but the satellite failed to reach orbit. Iran suffered another Simorgh launch failure in January 2019 and another one with a different rocket, the Safir, a month later. In August 2019, another rocket failed so horribly that its explosion at the launch site at the Imam Khomeini Space Center was spotted from space. Despite the setbacks, Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi put on a brave face.


The Antonine Wall was adorned with brightly-colored, grisly propaganda to keep Scottish tribes at bay

Ancient Romans didn’t have any qualms about using some propaganda to keep Scottish tribes in line (and far away).

Bridgeness Slab.

The original Bridgeness Slab, currently at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.
Image via Wikimedia / user Barnimg.

What’s the best way to keep roving, rampaging Scottish tribesmen from pillaging your forum? To be honest, it’s probably a heavily-armed legion — but dazzling red, yellow, and white paints come a close second, according to Louisa Campbell, an archaeologist at the University of Glasgow.

A great, big, physical, painted wall

Known as the Antonine Wall, the fortification was built in the mid-second century AD right on the edge of Rome’s holdings in England. Like The Wall in Game of Thrones — for which it likely served as inspiration — the Antonine Wall was meant to keep dangerous northerners away. To make sure it worked, the Romans made sure this wall was scary — stone slabs placed along the wall were adorned with bloody-beaked Roman eagles, and images of victorious legionnaires with decapitated enemies. Just for good measure, the stones also sported carved-in Latin inscriptions alongside these graphic warnings.


The inscription on the Bridgeness slab is a dedication to the Emperor Antoninus Pius. It reads (often with abbreviations):
Emperor Caesar Titus Aelius / Hadrianus Antoninus / Augustus Pius, Father of his Country, The Second Legion / Augusta, made (built) four thousand six-hundred and fifty-two paces (of the wall).
Image via Wikimedia / user dun_deagh.

According to Louisa Campbell, an archaeologist at the University of Glasgow, the stone slabs were “Roman propaganda” used to scare off local tribespeople living north of the Antonine Wall (basically, today’s Scotland). The stones are now their natural plain grey, but Campbell’s research shows they were once painted in bright colors. She reports finding residues of natural red and yellow ochre pigments, of matter and realgar (a plant used to make red dye and a red mineral respectively), white lead, and orpiment (a bright yellow mineral).

Campbell studied 19 such slabs (or “distance stones”) found along the wall, including the two most famous of these stones: the Summerston and the Bridgeness Slab. Both depicted scenes of Roman cavalry mowing through northern warriors or guarding bound captives. The Bridgeness Slab also showed a decapitated warrior in the midst of a battle, and Campbell found residue of red paint on both ends of the severed neck. The Summerston Slab might have featured a blood-red painted Roman eagle.

Red seems to have been primarily used to paint details, such as the cloaks of Roman soldiers and spatters of blood on the enemies of said soldiers. It seems to me like a subtle, quite smart use of the color. On one hand, it makes the legionnaires clearly distinguishable, capitalizing on Rome’s iconic red uniforms. On the other hand, it made it clear that invaders would be met with a bloodbath. Perhaps less immediately apparent, but no less intimidating, is that the only red on the legionnaires was on the cloaks — ‘Rome will defeat you’, this symbolizes, ‘and you won’t even be able to scratch our soldiers’.

Summerston slab.

The Summerston slab.
Image credits George MacDonald.

These propaganda stones were placed at intervals along the Antonine Wall to mark Roman superiority in the region, and discourage any thoughts of invasion. It’s also possible that the stones were as much a show of force for Roman subjects as they for invaders, there to make the people feel safe and keep them content.

[Read More] Safe, content, and probably writing dirty things on the city walls — like any respectable Roman would.

Modern advertisers would probably applaud the design ideas behind these slabs.

“I would suggest the red on the beak of the eagle (the symbol of Rome and her legions) symbolizes Rome feasting off the flesh of her enemies,” Campbell wrote in an email for Live Science.

Rome didn’t hang on to the wall for very long, despite its propaganda efforts; maybe northern warriors thought the legions were overcompensating? Whatever the case, the Antonine Wall (whose construction was commissioned in 142 A.D.) was abandoned sometime in 161 A.D. for unknown reasons. The Empire briefly re-captured it between 208 to 211 A.D., but they never succeeded in establishing the wall as Rome’s permanent northernmost border.

“The public are accustomed to seeing these sculptures in bland greys, creams, white (for marble) and don’t get the full impact that they would have had on the Roman and indigenous audiences 2,000 years ago,” Campbell told the Bailiwick Express.

“Knowing how colour was used by the Romans to tell stories and create impact is a huge leap forward in understanding these sculptures,” added Patricia Weeks, Antonine Wall coordinator at Historic Environment Scotland. 

Long stretches of the wall’s stone ruins are still visible today, although the earth-and-wood sections haven’t fared as well.

This fun online game lets you play a propaganda master — and it’s a fake news vaccine

A new game developed by Cambridge scientists lets us take the role of an aspiring propagandist — you decide how to manipulate the public, use a Twitter bot army, and create a loyal, misled following. The game is free to play online, it’s simple, fun, and best of all, it enables you to deal with propaganda when you actually encounter it.

Play the bad news game here

Catchy lies

There’s a reason why people say we live in a post-truth world. If you’ve been keeping an eye on the news, you’ve probably seen stories of pro-Russian twitter bots, fake news, and the ever-present propaganda — and we fall for these more often than you think.

When President Trump was still a running candidate, a story went viral; the story said that the Pope endorses Trump and was picked up by 960 million Facebook users. A quick investigation revealed that the story was completely fake, and traced it back to a small town in Macedonia called Veles — where no less than 140 fake news sites are based. But the debunk didn’t reach half as many people as the original lie, and even if it did, the sows of doubt were already planted.

For the past few years, researchers have been frantically looking for a way to inoculate people against fake news. Now, Cambridge researchers have found a way to do that: by playing a game. I’ve played it a couple of times already. It’s fun, addictive, and extremely educative.

The fake news game

The earliest stages of the game. You’re just a small fry with no followers. But we’ll move up soon enough.

The game has you fill the shoes of an aspiring propaganda master. Choosing between several branching options, the game has the player stoke anger, mistrust, and fear in the public by manipulating digital news and social media. You start a website, create a loyal Twitter following (ahem, bots are welcome), and publish polarizing falsehoods. The goal is to create as many followers as possible while also maintaining a high “credibility” score.

But the real goal of the game is to understand how fake news works. The game takes advantage of a simple psychological trick: if someone tells you how something works, you might not want to take in the information. But if someone practically shows you the proverbial sausage factory, the inner workings of online misinformation, you’re much more likely to take it in. Better yet, the game is catchy, so you want to play it more and learn more.

Now we’re going places.

In order to test how well it works, researchers conducted a pilot study with teenagers. They found that those who played the game were much less likely to be tricked by fake news. No one really wants to eat the sausage after you see how it’s done.

In psychology, this process is called inoculation.

Play the bad news game here

A disinformation vaccine

Like a vaccine, psychological inoculation renders you immune (or almost immune) to the effects of fake news.

“A biological vaccine administers a small dose of the disease to build immunity. Similarly, inoculation theory suggests that exposure to a weak or demystified version of an argument makes it easier to refute when confronted with more persuasive claims,” says Dr. Sander van der Linden, Director of Cambridge University’s Social Decision-Making Lab.

“If you know what it is like to walk in the shoes of someone who is actively trying to deceive you, it should increase your ability to spot and resist the techniques of deceit. We want to help grow ‘mental antibodies’ that can provide some immunity against the rapid spread of misinformation.”

The game and the subsequent study drew from existing research on online disinformation, taking cues from actual conspiracy theories.

“You don’t have to be a master spin doctor to create effective disinformation. Anyone can start a site and artificially amplify it through twitter bots, for example. But recognising and resisting fake news doesn’t require a PhD in media studies either,” says Jon Roozenbeek, a researcher from Cambridge’s Department of Slavonic Studies and one of the game’s designers.

“We aren’t trying to drastically change behavior, but instead trigger a simple thought process to help foster critical and informed news consumption.”

The study, The Fake News Game: Actively Inoculating Against the Risk of Misinformation, has been at the Journal of Risk Research. You can read it in full, for free.