Google is expanding its disinformation awareness program, which it also tested in the Czech Republic

Google expands disinformation awareness program, which it also tested in the Czech Republic

Illustration photo – Logo of the internet company Google

Washington – After the promising results of a pilot program, the technology company Google has decided to expand an information campaign aimed at increasing the resistance of Internet users against misinformation and conspiracy theories. In recent months, the method has been tested in the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, and now it will be applied in Germany, and a similar program is also being prepared for India. The AP agency informed about it today.

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The project is based on a technique called prebunking, or preventive refutation of false and misleading information. The goal is to spread awareness among people about the stories and techniques often used by disinformation actors, and thereby prepare the audience for contact with manipulative content. According to the AP, support for this approach is growing among researchers and technology companies.

The campaign being tested in Central Europe is behind the company Jigsaw, which is a department of Google that investigates new social phenomena. In collaboration with psychologists from the universities of Cambridge and Bristol, she created a set of 90-second clips that pointed to fear-mongering methods of Ukrainian refugees. At the turn of summer and fall, these clips appeared for a month in advertising slots on the YouTube platform.

“Using advertising as a means of combating disinformation techniques is quite new. And the results are encouraging,” said Beth Goldberg, head of research and development at Jigsaw.

The pilot program aimed at users in three European countries was the largest test of so-called prebunking so far, AP writes. The educational videos collected 38 million views during it. The researchers concluded that people who saw them were more successful at detecting disinformation techniques and less likely to spread false claims. The strongest effect was seen in Poland, while in Slovakia the videos had “little to no impact”.

In addition to YouTube, the continuation of the campaign in Germany should also use advertising space on Facebook and Tiktok. It will also focus on photos and videos and how easy it is to present visual materials as evidence of something that didn't actually happen. An example of this phenomenon was also brought in the last days, when after a strong earthquake in Turkey and Syria, a video of an explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, from 2020, passed off as footage of a nuclear explosion caused by an earthquake, was again circulated.

The Internet and social networks allow very fast the extension of such and other manipulations to millions of people. Experts don't have a clear answer to the question of how to curb this aspect of new media, but “vaccinating” users through clips like those created by Jigsaw seems like a promising approach. It also has its pitfalls, but compared to traditional fact-checking or content moderation on platforms, it is not so expensive, and the advantage is that instead of specific claims that can evoke strong emotions, it focuses more on the techniques used by disinformers.

“It's good news in a sector that has been more or less a source of bad news,” said Alex Mahadevan, who heads the media literacy project at the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism center. He described prebunking as a relatively effective procedure that allows “to reach a lot of people and at the same time touch on a wide range of disinformation”.