By Seth Smalley for Poynter
A study that dropped last week strongly suggests “prebunking” is an effective way to counter the propaganda techniques at the center of mis- and disinformation.
Prebunk is a frequently used term used in the fact-checking space. It’s derived from debunk and means to preemptively refute expected false narratives, misinformation or manipulation techniques. As opposed to fact-checking every instance of a false claim, which many argue is impossible, prebunking seeks to inoculate the public against anticipated narratives in advance.
Researchers say fact-checking is like treating the symptoms of an illness and compared prebunking to vaccination.
The study, published by Science Advances and led by Cambridge researchers in partnership with Jigsaw — a research branch of Google — exposed millions of YouTube users to 90-second clips that explained manipulation techniques, like fearmongering, scapegoating and playing into emotions. Users subsequently completed follow-up surveys at later dates that tested their ability to determine whether a manipulation technique was implemented.
“So think about when you get a vaccine. It has a microdose of the virus. It’s not the whole virus, but it’s like a little piece of it that your body can recognize,” Beth Goldberg, head of research at Jigsaw, told the International Fact-Checking Network. “It’s the same thing in a prebunking video; we show you a little clip of the propaganda, so that you can recognize the manipulation tactics going forward.”