Inoculation against false and misleading information and manipulation online
What is the boost?
Inoculation (also known as prebunking) is a preemptive intervention that boosts people’s resilience to false and misleading information and manipulation online. Inoculation involves exposure to a weakened form of common disinformation and manipulation strategies.
Which challenges does the boost tackle?
False and misleading information; manipulation online.
How does it work?
People learn about common strategies used to manipulate and mislead the public (e.g., to cast doubt on climate change or spread conspiracy theories). Interventions can be implemented as a game or as warning messages on social networks (see below for examples and Lewandowsky et al., 2020, for a hands-on guide to inoculation and other, debunking techniques).
Which competences does the boost foster?
Cognitive resilience to manipulation.
What is the evidence behind it?
Inoculation or prebunking interventions have been tested in a variety of contexts, applications, and topics (Roozenbeek et al., 2022; Lewandowsky & van der Linden, 2021; van der Linden et al., 2017). Recent evidence suggests that the effect of inoculation can persist at least for three months after the intervention (Maertens et al., 2020).
- Lewandowsky, S., Cook, J., Ecker, U. K. H., Albarracín, D., Amazeen, M. A., Kendeou, P., Lombardi, D., Newman, E. J., Pennycook, G., Porter, E. Rand, D. G., Rapp, D. N., Reifler, J., Roozenbeek, J., Schmid, P., Seifert, C. M., Sinatra, G. M., Swire-Thompson, B., van der Linden, S., Vraga, E. K., Wood, T. J., & Zaragoza, M. S. (2020). The debunking handbook 2020. Available at https://sks.to/db2020. https://doi.org/10.17910/b7.1182
- Lewandowsky, S., & van der Linden, S. (2021). Countering misinformation and fake news through inoculation and prebunking. European Review of Social Psychology, 32 348–384. https://doi.org/10.1080/10463283.2021.1876983
- Roozenbeek, J., Traberg, C. S., & van der Linden, S. (2022). Technique-based inoculation against real-world misinformation. Royal Society Open Science, 9(5), 211719. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.211719
- van der Linden, S., Maibach, E., Cook, J., Leiserowitz, A., & Lewandowsky, S. (2017). Inoculating against misinformation. Science, 358, 1141–1142. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aar4533
See inoculation.science for “research and resources on inoculation theory applied to misinformation” (maintained by the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab).
Overview of inoculation interventions
There are two components to inoculation (Cook et al., 2017:
- An explicit warning about a potential threat of disinformation or manipulation—for example, a warning about the statements of a panel of unqualified “experts” casting doubt on climate change.
- A refutation of an anticipated argument, which exposes the disinformation strategy.
In some cases, only the first component is used (see example below).
Inoculation 1.0: Prebunking messages
- Cook, J., Lewandowsky, S., & Ecker, U. K. H. (2017). Neutralizing misinformation through inoculation: Exposing misleading argumentation techniques reduces their influence. PLoS ONE, 12, Article e0175799. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0175799
- van der Linden, S., Leiserowitz, A., Rosenthal, S., & Maibach, E. (2017). Inoculating the public against misinformation about climate change. Global Challenges, 1, Article 1600008. https://doi.org/10.1002/gch2.201600008
Inoculation 2.0: Gamified interventions
Bad News game
Bad News (getbadnews.com) is a game that aims to develop a “broad-spectrum vaccine” against disinformation. It focuses on the tactics commonly used to produce disinformation, rather than on the content of a specific disinformation campaign. By playing Bad News, participants learn six common strategies for spreading disinformation (according to NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, 2017):
- impersonating people or famous sources online
- producing provocative emotional content
- amplifying group polarization
- floating conspiracy theories
- discrediting opponents
The underlying idea of the game is that players train to become expert manipulators by applying disinformation techniques—thereby developing a competence to detect manipulation that they can use whenever they are online. The game is set in a weakened form of an environment where people are apt to encounter false information: social media.
- Roozenbeek, J., & van der Linden, S. (2019). Fake news game confers psychological resistance against online misinformation. Palgrave Communications, 5, Article 65. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-019-0279-9
- Basol, M., Roozenbeek, J., & van der Linden, S. (2020). Good news about bad news: Gamified inoculation boosts confidence and cognitive immunity against fake news. Journal of Cognition, 3, Article 2. https://doi.org/10.5334/joc.91
- Maertens, R., Roozenbeek, J., Basol, M., & van der Linden, S. (2021). Long-term effectiveness of inoculation against misinformation: Three longitudinal experiments. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 27, 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1037/xap0000315
Cranky Uncle game
Cranky Uncle is a game that uses cartoons, humor, and critical thinking to expose the misleading techniques of science denial and build public resilience against misinformation. The app was developed by Monash University scientist John Cook, in collaboration with creative agency Autonomy.
Cook, J. (2020). Cranky Uncle vs. climate change: How to understand and respond to climate science deniers. Citadel Press. https://crankyuncle.com/book/
Radicalise app: Inoculation against extremist persuasion techniques
Radicalise is a game that aims to combat the effectiveness of online recruitment strategies used by extremist organizations. It inoculates players by simulating the key techniques and methods used to recruit and radicalize individuals via social media platforms: identifying vulnerable individuals, gaining their trust, isolating them from their community, and pressuring them into committing a criminal act in the name of the extremist organization.
Saleh, N. F., Roozenbeek, J., Makki, F. A., McClanahan, W. P., & van der Linden, S. (2021). Active inoculation boosts attitudinal resistance against extremist persuasion techniques: A novel approach towards the prevention of violent extremism. Behavioural Public Policy, 1–24. https://doi.org/10.1017/bpp.2020.60