'Pre-bunking' is Google's latest defense against misinformation A promising repellent and chance at rebuilding media literacy

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You’ve heard of debunking, but have you heard of ‘pre-bunking’? A recent study reviewed the results of a lab that presented 90-second cartoon clips about misinformation to a sample of people. It wasn’t just any cartoon either, some of the video clips included characters from popular cartoons such as South Park and Family Guy.

The reason why Cambridge and Google’s social scientists combined conducted this study was to explore and test new avenues for rebuilding media literacy. Especially after the infodemic, there is an increased amount of misinformation circulating on the internet in a never-ending amount of formats, video, text, data, the list goes on.

The study showed that the short clips featuring cartoon characters proved to be effective at informing the group of the perils of misinformation and the tactics that are used.

What sets ‘pre-bunking’ apart?

‘Pre-bunking’ is different because it uses a more direct approach than prior methods used to combat misinformation. For example, a common approach used is fact-checking, but it hasn’t proven to be effective in debunking and preventing misinformation from spreading.

In an NBC report, the lead author of the study, Jon Roozenbeek, reported that ‘fact-checking’ has become a flammable word and politicized. This is one of the reasons that fact-checking isn’t as effective as ‘pre-bunking’. The reason that ‘pre-bunking’ is working in some capacity is because users have something to engage with. Not to mention that the video clips don’t contain any political symbols or relations, unlike fact-checking.

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‘Pre-bunking’ provides viewers with a visual and a political clip that equips them with information and knowledge to consider whether a piece of information is false or not.

Within the study, researchers tested ‘pre-bunking’ by formulating a series of videos to educate viewers on commonly used misinformation tactics.

The cartoon characters in the videos explained how bad actors use tactics to create false information. Following this, the study concluded that viewers from the sample who watched the videos were able to articulate and identify methods of manipulation at a higher level than those who didn’t.

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What about Disinformation?

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of this approach may not work as well for disinformation as it does for misinformation. The difference between the two is intent. Based on formal definitions, misinformation is just false information, crafted without being deliberate in misleading users.

But, disinformation is created to mislead users deliberately, like propaganda and often times there is a hidden political agenda. In a report, communications researcher Shannon McGregor explained that a ‘pre-bunking’ trial may not be able to tackle the deep seeded disinformation coming from far-right influencers.

Read More: Google, Ethics, And Getting The Word Out

According to The Associate Press, Google’s involvement in testing ‘pre-bunking’ is the largest effort to date. If ‘pre-bunking’ is used on a wider scale, it is supposed to function as a feature to complement Google’s current methods for tackling misinformation.

Content Team