A psychological inoculation to counter “fake news”


Excerpt from one of the five videos presenting the mechanisms of misinformation and manipulation.

On August 31, astronaut Thomas Pesquet had to explain at length on Twitter that “Of course yes, humans went to the Moon during the Apollo missions”after his remarks were distorted by deniers of the conquest by man of our satellite.

Yet another illustration of the fact that online disinformation continues to be a major societal problem. And this, despite the proliferation in the media of debunkers [de l’anglais debunk, « discréditer »]journalists who, like the Decoders of the World, seek to verify assertions suspected of being fallacious. How to find other countermeasures to these “fake news” which massively spread on social networks and, by extension, in society and homes?

Read also: Online disinformation: EU adopts new code of conduct for social media and platforms

An international team of psychology researchers from the universities of Cambridge, Bristol (United Kingdom) and Perth (Australia) has carried out an experiment unprecedented in its scope, with the help of a partnership with the Jigsaw laboratory (Google, USA). By interposed videos, they have “psychologically inoculated”, they explain, low-dose fake news to Internet users in order to stimulate, somewhat like a vaccine, their immunity to misinformation, and to teach them to sort out the good grain and chaff. The rather encouraging results obtained were published in Science Advances August 24.

"We had the idea by 'inoculation' to immunize people against common manipulation techniques by creating, in February 2018, bad news game », explains the lead author of the publication, Jon Roozenbeek, from the University of Cambridge. The idea of ​​these videos is an extension of this first work. »

Study in the lab and in “real life”

To launch this new study, the researchers imagined five short ninety-second films that present manipulation techniques frequently used in disinformation practices : emotionally manipulative language, inconsistency, false dilemmas, the scapegoat technique and attacks ad hominem.

Each of the videos is structured in the same way: a first misleading message – for example in the case of manipulative language, a sad little girl with a voiceover calling for watching the sequel even if it will make you cry –, then comes a film animation to decipher the manipulation. "When the message is announced as generating negative emotions such as fear, anger or contempt, it makes you want to watch the rest of the video", we learn. Finally, a short practical exercise concludes the film in order to check that the manipulation technique has been properly assimilated.

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