Following an experiment by Bristol and Cambridge Universities, Google has announced that it plans to run adverts on YouTube, TikTok, Twitter and Facebook, educating users about how to spot disinformation and misinformation.
The University experiment which led to Google’s decision to run adverts was based on the idea of ‘pre-bunking’ from ‘Inoculation Theory.’
Inoculation Theory suggests that using various forms of communication, people can be persuaded not to be influenced by other arguments or belief systems. Pre-bunking / attitudinal inoculation, which is based upon Inoculation Theory is the idea that giving web users a small dose of what online manipulation and disinformation looks like will help them to spot it and protect themselves from it in the future.
The experiment involved Google Jigsaw (a part of Google which “explores threats to open societies”) showing 90 second video adverts on YouTube to 5.4 million people. The adverts informed viewers about the misinformation tactics they may encounter on the platform. 22,000 subjects were then surveyed after seeing the videos.
The results showed that respondents’ ability to spot disinformation techniques to decide whether to share content had increased, and that they had an increased ability to discern trustworthy from untrustworthy content. Also, it was found that the ‘inoculation’ effect of the videos worked for people with different levels of education, different political views, and different personality types. It was, therefore, concluded that this type of general inoculation could be scaled and could work well against misinformation online.
Although Google plans to go ahead with the adverts, based on the success of the experiment, concerns raised by some tech commentators include:
– Concerns about impartiality, i.e. who decides what the misinformation (incorrect information) and disinformation (deliberately deceptive information) is, whether it is Google, a government, or another influence. Also, pre-bunking can be used for the wrong reasons, e.g. manipulation by certain regimes.
– The recent apparent failure in the US of pre-bunking over the reason for a video being produced by Russia (which never materialised) in the run-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Pre-bunking also proved to be not entirely successful in stopping fake news about COVID 19.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Many people (particularly younger age groups) tend to get their news from sources such as social media which tend to be less trusted in terms of factual accuracy and motivations. Social media platforms, however, have found it difficult to stop and remove fake news, hate speech, and other damaging elements from their channels. State-sponsored attempts to influence opinions in recent years, e.g. the US election and UK Brexit referendum plus widescale spreading of misinformation and disinformation about COVID 19, have all shown that this is a real problem online. Poor relationships between the west and Russia and China in recent times, plus Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have also made the risk of fake news and deepfakes being circulated even greater. Although pre-bunking may not have been entirely successful in other cases recently, the results of the recent experiments could indicate that pre-bunking adverts may be one useful tool and tactic among many for tackling misinformation and disinformation online. There will, however, be some people who will view it with suspicion, so it remains to be seen how well it works in practice, although this may be difficult to measure.