Google to Expand Misinformation ‘Prebunking’ in Europe

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WASHINGTON (AP) — After Seeing promising results Eastern Europe, Google A new campaign will be launched in Germany It aims at making people more resistant to the damaging effects of online misinformation.

The Tech giant plans to release short videos to highlight common tricks that can lead to misleading claims. The YouTube will display videos as advertisements Facebook, YouTube or TikTok Germany. Similar campaign here India This is also being considered.

It’s an approach called pre-bunking, which involves teaching people how to spot false claims before they encounter them. The strategy is gaining support among researchers and tech companies.

“There’s a real appetite for solutions,” said Beth Goldberg, head of research and development at Jigsaw, an incubator division of Google that studies emerging social challenges. “Using ads as a vehicle to counter a disinformation technique is pretty novel. And we’re excited about the results.”

It’s a challenge with few easy solutions. Journalistic fact checks are effective, but they’re labor intensive, aren’t read by everyone, and won’t convince those already distrustful of traditional journalism. Content moderation by tech companies is another response, but it only drives misinformation elsewhere, while prompting cries of censorship and bias.

Pre-bunking videos, by contrast, are relatively cheap and easy to produce and can be seen by millions when placed on popular platforms. They also avoid the political challenge altogether by focusing not on the topics of false claims, which are often cultural lightning rods, but on the techniques that make viral misinformation so infectious.

Last fall, Google launched the largest test of the theory so far with a pre-bunking video campaign in Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The videos dissected different techniques seen in false claims about Ukrainian refugees. Many of those claims relied on alarming and unfounded stories about refugees committing crimes or taking jobs away from residents.

The videos were seen 38 million times on Facebook, TikTok, YouTube and Twitter — a number that equates to a majority of the population in the three nations. Researchers found that compared to people who hadn’t seen the videos, those who did watch were more likely to be able to identify misinformation techniques, and less likely to spread false claims to others.

The pilot project was the largest test of pre-bunking so far and adds to a growing consensus in support of the theory.

“This is a good news story in what has essentially been a bad news business when it comes to misinformation,” said Alex Mahadevan, director of MediaWise, a media literacy initiative of the Poynter Institute that has incorporated pre-bunking into its own programs in countries including Brazil, Spain, France and the U.S.

Mahadevan called the strategy a “pretty efficient way to address misinformation at scale, because you can reach a lot of people while at the same time address a wide range of misinformation.”

Google’s new campaign in Germany will include a focus on photos and videos, and the ease with which they can be presented of evidence of something false. One example: Last week, following the earthquake in Turkey, some social media users shared video of the massive explosion in Beirut in 2020, claiming it was actually footage of a nuclear explosion triggered by the earthquake. It was not the first time the 2020 explosion had been the subject of misinformation.

Google will announce its new German campaign Monday ahead of next week’s Munich Security Conference. The timing of the announcement, coming before that annual gathering of international security officials, reflects heightened concerns about the impact of misinformation among both tech companies and government officials.

Tech companies like pre-bunking because it avoids touchy topics that are easily politicized, said Sander van der Linden, a University of Cambridge professor considered a leading expert on the theory. Van der Linden worked with Google on its campaign and is now advising Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, as well.

Meta has incorporated pre-bunking into many different media literacy and anti-misinformation campaigns in recent years, the company told The Associated Press in an emailed statement.

They include a 2021 program in the U.S. that offered media literacy training about COVID-19 to Black, Latino and Asian American communities. Participants who took the training were later tested and found to be far more resistant to misleading COVID-19 claims.

Pre-bunking comes with its own challenges. The effects of the videos eventually wears off, requiring the use of periodic “booster” videos. Also, the videos must be crafted well enough to hold the viewer’s attention, and tailored for different languages, cultures and demographics. And like a vaccine, it’s not 100% effective for everyone.

Google found that its campaign in Eastern Europe varied from country to country. While the effect of the videos was highest in Poland, in Slovakia they had “little to no discernible effect,” researchers found. One possible explanation: The videos were dubbed into the Slovak language, and not created specifically for the local audience.

But together with traditional journalism, content moderation and other methods of combating misinformation, pre-bunking could help communities reach a kind of herd immunity when it comes to misinformation, limiting its spread and impact.

“You can think of misinformation as a virus. It spreads. It lingers. It can make people act in certain ways,” Van der Linden told the AP. “Some people develop symptoms, some do not. So: if it spreads and acts like a virus, then maybe we can figure out how to inoculate people.”

Follow the AP’s coverage of misinformation at https://apnews.com/hub/misinformation.

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