Short animations giving viewers a taste of the tactics behind misinformation can help to “inoculate” people against harmful content on social media when deployed in YouTube’s advert slot, according to a major online experiment led by the University of Cambridge.
Working with Jigsaw (https://jigsaw.google.com/), 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 familiarise users with manipulation techniques such as scapegoating and deliberate incoherence.
This “pre-bunking” strategy pre-emptively exposes people to tropes at the root of malicious propaganda, so they can better identify online falsehoods regardless of subject matter.
Researchers behind the Inoculation Science project (https://inoculation.science/) 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 — and show a single viewing of a film clip increases awareness of misinformation.
The videos introduce concepts from the “misinformation playbook,” illustrated with relatable examples from film and TV such as Family Guy or, in the case of false dichotomies, Star Wars (“Only a Sith deals in absolutes”).
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