Pre-bunking: Google studies way of fighting misinformation


FILE – The Google logo is seen at the Vivatech show in Paris, France, June 15, 2022. Google and a team of university researchers have hit on what they say could be an effective way to make people more impervious to the harmful impact of online misinformation. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)

(NewsNation) — Debunking misinformation after the fact can be challenging, so university researchers and Google are studying an approach called “pre-bunking.”

A study published last week in the journal Science Advances describes how short online videos, teaching people basic critical thinking skills, are making them better at resisting misinformation. According to NBC, Jigsaw, a Google subsidiary that researches misinformation and other subjects, provided funding for the study.

Correcting misinformation has several obstacles, researchers noted in their study. Fact-checks are unlikely to reach everyone who was exposed to it, they said, and even getting people to believe them can be hard in a highly politicized world.

In response, “pre-bunking” has gained prominence as a way to “preemptively build resilience against anticipated exposure to misinformation,” study authors said.

It’s an approach grounded in what’s called “inoculation theory,” researchers said, a theory that suggests it is possible to build a psychological resistance to misinformation in the same way that vaccines build physiological resistance to pathogens.

To test it, researchers created a series of videos covering five manipulation techniques commonly encountered in online misinformation: rhetoric meant to evoke strong emotions; using incoherent or mutually exclusive arguments; false dichotomies; scapegoating; and ad hominem attacks.

The videos demonstrate how these tactics can show up on social media posts to sway people.

After researchers gave study subjects a series of claims, they found those who watched the videos were “significantly better” at knowing what information was false versus what was accurate.

As NBC reported, Google said it doesn’t have plans to push “pre-bunk” videos in the United States before the midterm elections. However, the company said it could be an option for future election cycles and the videos are available on YouTube.

Google’s effort is one of the largest real-world tests of pre-bunking so far, according to The Associated Press.

Now, videos will be released on YouTube, Facebook, and on TikTok in Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, three countries whose citizens are vulnerable to misinformation about Ukrainian refugees.

Jigsaw CEO Yasmin Green said the pre-bunking work is intended to complement Google’s other efforts to combat misinformation.

“As the scourge of misinformation grows, there’s a lot more we can do to provide people with prompts and features that help them stay safe and informed online,” she said, according to AP.

Twitter is another online platform working with pre-bunks. In light of the 2022 midterm elections, Twitter brought back pre-bunks in English and other languages, placing prompts directly on people’s timelines when they type related phrases, terms or hashtags.

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