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Fighting misinformation

Psychological inoculation to fight misinformation

Researchers say they have psychologically inoculated consumers against online misinformation. In a test, consumers were shown five short videos that inoculated them against manipulation techniques commonly used in misinformation. The inoculation boosted consumers’ recognition of misinformation and increased their ability to discern trustworthy from untrustworthy content, five researchers write in Science. It also improved quality of users´ sharing decisions.

“These effects are robust across the political spectrum and a wide variety of covariates. We show that psychological inoculation campaigns on social media are effective at improving misinformation resilience at scale”, Jon Roozenbeek, Cambridge University, Sander van der Linden, Cambridge University, Beth Goldberg, Google, Steve Rathje, Cambridge University and Stephan Lewandowsk, Bristol University write.

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”Inoculation theory follows a medical immunization analogy and posits that it is possible to build psychological resistance against unwanted persuasion attempts, much like medical inoculations build physiological resistance against pathogens.”

The five videos, produced in cooperation with Google Jigsaw, focused on: using emotionally manipulative rhetoric to evoke outrage, anger, or other strong emotions; the use of incoherent or mutually exclusive arguments; presenting false dichotomies or dilemmas; scapegoating individuals or groups; and engaging in ad hominem attacks.

Each video first provided a forewarning of an impending misinformation attack, then issued a preemptive refutation of the manipulation technique used in this attack, and lastly presented a “microdose” of misinformation in the form of innocuous and humorous examples (such as an example of incoherence from the animated television series Family Guy).

”Across seven high-powered preregistered studies including a field experiment on YouTube, with a total of nearly 30,000 participants, we find that watching short inoculation videos improves people’s ability to identify manipulation techniques commonly used in online misinformation, both in a laboratory setting and in a real-world environment where exposure to misinformation is common.”

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However, the researchers stress that they do not know for how long the inoculation effect remains and they do not know if watching one of the videos also improves the ability to recognize misinformation of other types than the addressed in the video.

Results in short:

  • Participants in the treatment (inoculation) group were significantly better than a control group at discriminating social media content containing a manipulation technique and neutral content (technique recognition).
  • Participants in the treatment group were significantly more confident in their judgments (i.e., their ability to discern manipulative from nonmanipulative content) than a control group.
  • Participants in the treatment group were significantly better than the control group at discriminating the trustworthiness of manipulative from neutral social media content.
  • Participants in the treatment group were significantly less likely to indicate being willing to share manipulative social media with people in their network than neutral content, compared to a control group.
  • Participants who watch an inoculation video on YouTube as an advertisement (treatment group) were significantly better than those who do not watch an inoculation video (control group) at identifying manipulation techniques in social media content.
  • The videos can be viewed at
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