How Google is ‘pre-bunking’ fake news on YouTube videos

25 Aug 2022

Image: © PheelingsMedia/

Short ad-like videos will soon be deployed on YouTube in some countries to help ‘inoculate’ people against misinformation.

Google has teamed up with researchers to curb the proliferation of misinformation and conspiracy theories on YouTube by creating short videos that help viewers identify common markers.

In a study published yesterday (24 August), researchers from Google’s Jigsaw unit, Cambridge University, the University of Bristol and the University of Western Australia conducted a series of experiments. They wanted to find out if showing people short animations on how to spot misinformation in videos had an impact on their propensity to fall for fake news.

The researchers developed five short videos to “inoculate” people against manipulation techniques commonly used in misinformation, such as emotionally manipulative language, incoherence and scapegoating.

They found groups that were shown these ‘pre-bunking’ – as opposed to ‘de-bunking’ – videos were more likely than others to identify videos that contained misinformation and untrustworthy content.

The research included an “ecologically valid field study” on YouTube involving 5.4m viewers in the US who were shown the ad-like pre-bunking videos before the videos they intended to watch.

Of the nearly 1m who sat through the videos for at least 30 seconds, a random 30pc of this group was asked to identify the manipulation technique being used in a fictional social media post that was shown to them on the screen.

Researchers found the group that had been shown the inoculation video was 5pc more likely to get the answer right when compared to a group that had not been shown the videos.

“These findings are exciting because they demonstrate that we can scale pre-bunking far and wide, using ads as a vehicle, and that the pre-bunking videos are effective in an ‘ecologically valid environment’ on social media and outside a controlled lab test,” Beth Goldberg, head of research at Jigsaw and one of the study’s authors, told New Scientist.

Use in eastern Europe

Jigsaw, started in 2016, is Google parent Alphabet’s tech incubator unit that aims to identify and solve geopolitical challenges such as disinformation, extremism, censorship and digital attacks.

Now, Google is hoping to use this research to help curb the spread of hateful ideologies and false information surrounding the crisis in Ukraine and the resultant spike in anti-refugee sentiment. It will soon deploy the pre-bunking videos in eastern Europe.

Protocol reports that Jigsaw and YouTube will launch a series of video ads in Poland, Slovakia and Czechia over the coming weeks to help people identify and dismiss derogatory tropes about migrants.

The month-long campaign is expected to garner at least 55m impressions, which is around the same as the population of the three countries combined.

“We wanted to reach as broad an audience as possible,” Goldberg told the publication, adding that the team will use this opportunity to conduct further studies on the impact of pre-bunking videos.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic