Misinformation Experiment has Potential to ‘Inoculate’ Millions of Social Media Users

Briefly exposing social media users to the tricks behind misinformation boosts awareness of harmful online falsehoods, says new research—and Google is set to deploy an anti-disinformation campaign based on the findings.

Short animations placed in YouTube’s Ad slot gave viewers a taste of the strategies behind misinformation, according to the huge online experiment led by the University of Cambridge.

Working with Jigsaw, a unit within Google dedicated to tackling threats to open societies, a team of psychologists from the universities of Cambridge and Bristol created 90-second clips designed to familiarize users with manipulation techniques such as scapegoating and deliberate incoherence.

This “pre-bunking” strategy preemptively exposes people to tropes at the root of malicious propaganda, so they can better identify falsehoods online—regardless of subject matter.

Researchers behind the Inoculation Science project compare it to a vaccine: by giving people a “micro-dose” of misinformation in advance, it helps prevent them falling for it in future — an idea based on what social psychologist’s call “inoculation theory.”

The findings, published in Science Advances, come from seven experiments involving a total of almost 30,000 participants—including the first “real world field study” of inoculation theory on a social media platform.

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