Propaganda dictionary: whataboutism


Whataboutism“ is term used to describe the propaganda technique that could be characterized in Estonian by the expressions „but others did it too“ or „ but what are you doing yourself“ and which came into use during the Soviet Union and later with the Russian authorities when describing their communication manoeuvers.

The emergence of this concept was triggered by the Cold War dialogue between the West and the Soviet Union, where the reaction to Western criticism was usually a response to criticism that began in English with the expression „What about…“ followed by an arbitrarily chosen put down such as „ but you intimidate minorities!“

In 2014, the Russian President used this technique when answering a BBC journalist’s question. It was about war planes flying above European airspace and the deliberate tension it caused. Putin told the journalist: „The United States however, has continued to do this all the time. Who here is actually causing the anxiety? „ Putin asked, adding that the United States has military presence all over the world and that it has also recently brought its troops to Eastern Europe.

 „And you blame us with aggression!“

 „We have only two bases abroad, in Kyrgyzstan and close to the Afghanistan border in Tajikistan. The USA has bases all over the world and nobody is opposed to them. Who is aggressive?“ asked Putin.

The term, which is thought to have begun in 1993, gained popularity when an article in the Economist by Edward Lucas in January of 2008 was entitled „Whataboutism“.

The technique, which has more than half a century of history behind it, is widespread and used successfully in political communications and is often seen used by Estonian politicians.

To describe Whataboutism, a joke from the Soviet era is often used, when a caller to a radio show asks the announcer, how much is the average American workers pay. The question is followed by a long pause and then the announcer says, „ but they lynch black people there“. The joke has changed a bit in Western culture but it gives a vivid picture of the structure of the technique.


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