Google, after getting promising results in Eastern Europe, has decided to initiate a new campaign in Germany that will aim at making people more resilient to the abrasive impact of online misinformation.
It has planned to announce a series of videos which are said to highlight the techniques common to many misleading claims. The videos are likely to appear as advertisements on several social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, or TikTok in Germany. India is also on the run for a similar campaign.
What exactly is pre-bunking?
Pre-bunking is the art of identifying false information before they run across internet. The strategy is gaining support among researchers and tech companies.
Beth Goldberg, the Head of Research and Development at Jigsaw, an incubator division of Google that studies emerging social challenges said, “There's a real appetite for solutions.” "Using ads as a vehicle to counter a disinformation technique is pretty novel. And we're excited about the results."
It's a challenge though!
Journalistic fact checks are normally reliable, but aren't read by everyone, they're labor intensive, and might not convince people who already have a distrust for traditional journalism and reporting.
Content moderation by tech companies is befitting reply, but it also encourages misinformation spread while prompting heightened bias and censorship.
Techniques and Risks
Pre-bunking videos are relatively cheaper and are also easy to produce. They can also be seen by numerous people if they are wisely placed on popular social media platforms. Some techniques include scapegoating, fear-mongering, exaggeration, false comparisons, and also missing context.
The Pilot Project
In the near past, Google launched one of the largest tests of the theory with a pre-bunking video campaign in Poland, the Czech Republic and also in Slovakia. The videos revealed several techniques which were seen as false claims about Ukrainian refugees. Many of those claims mostly rested upon unfounded stories about refugees taking jobs away from residents and others.
The videos reached a digital footprint of over 8 million on Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, and Twitter. Researchers established that compared to people who had not viewed the videos and those who did watch them were more likely to recognise misinformation techniques.
The pilot project was one of the largest tests of pre-bunking and added to a growing consensus in support of the theory.
The German Campaign
Google's new campaign in Germany is likely to focus more on photos and videos and that they can be presented as evidence of something false. One example is the recent earthquake in Turkey when social media users shared video of the massive explosion in Beirut in 2020 in which it claimed it was the real footage of a nuclear explosion triggered by the earthquake.
It is reported that Google will announce its new German campaign soon ahead of the Munich Security Conference. The timing of the announcement, which is announced before the annual commencement of the international security officials, reflects increased concerns about the effects of misinformation among both government officials and tech companies
“Tech companies are in favor of pre-bunking because it doesn’t touch touchy topics that are easily politicized.” said Sander van der Linden, a University of Cambridge professor considered a leading expert on the theory.
Meta has also integrated pre-bunking into several media literacy along with some anti-misinformation campaigns in the last couple of years, the company said to The Associated Press in an emailed statement.
Variations and Challenges
As pre-bunking comes with its own challenges, the impact of the videos and photos eventually wear off; thus, requiring the usage of periodic "booster".
Google extracted that its campaign in Eastern Europe differed from country to country. Meanwhile, the impact of the videos was highest in Poland, however, in Slovakia they had "little to no discernible effect," researchers found. One possible explanation can be that the videos were dubbed into the Slovak language and were not created especially for the local audience.
However, together with traditional journalism, online journalism, and content moderation among other methods of fighting misinformation, pre-bunking, in future, might help communities reach a kind of immunity when it comes to dealing with misinformation and also limiting its spread and negative effects.