A mockup of a phone screen with this intervention, explaining that "You may encounter unverified claims on this topic." The icon is of an ear on a shield, representing the idea of 'protecting your ears from rumors.'

Messages prebunking misinformation on controversial topics

Innoculate users against misinformation

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What It Is

Users are shown inoculating messages via interstitial, pop-up, etc. that either:

  1. Explain the flawed argumentation technique used in common misinformation; or
  2. Highlight the scientific consensus on an issue, such as climate change

Civic Signal Being Amplified

Show reliable information

When To Use It

The messages can be set to appear whenever users search for terms or hashtags related to artificially bifurcated, or polarizing issues (e.g. global warming, autism, vaccines, etc.) or for anticipated narratives (e.g., election fraud).

What Is Its Intended Impact

Users who are shown the "prebunking" message are less likely to believe, interact with, or spread misinformation on the topic.

Without the need to make a judgement about other content, this intervention allows to infuse scientifically grounded facts into the discussion prior to the spread of the false information, as well as lay open common argumentation techniques (independent of the specific misinformation), thereby making the audience on social media more resilient to a broad spectrum of misinformation.

Evidence That It Works

Evidence That It Works

In a review by Lewandowsky & van der Linden (2021), the researchers explored proactive measures to prevent misinformation from finding traction in the first place, using the psychological theory of “inoculation” as a basis.

Inoculation rests on the idea that if people are forewarned that they might be misinformed and are exposed to weakened examples of the ways in which they might be misled, they will become more immune to misinformation.

The researchers then reviewed a number of techniques that can boost people’s resilience to misinformation. The interventions ranged from general warnings to more specific instructions about misleading—i.e., rhetorical—techniques.

Their research show that, based on the available evidence, inoculation appears to be a promising avenue to help protect people from misinformation and “fake news”.

Why It Matters

There has been increasing concern with the growing infusion of misinformation, or “fake news”, into public discourse and politics in many western democracies. Inoculation appears to be a promising avenue to help protect people from their damaging effects.

Misinformation can undermine a well-functioning democracy. It can also inhibit the passage of must-pass policy initiatives, such as measures to counter human-caused global warming.

It helps all of us to have user interfaces that preemptively inoculate users from the ways that science can be deliberately misconstrued.

Special Considerations


This intervention entry currently lacks photographic evidence (screencaps, &c.)


Countering Misinformation and Fake News Through Inoculation and Prebunking

Stephan Lewandowsky, Sander van der Linden
European Review of Social Psychology
February 22, 2021

Neutralizing misinformation through inoculation: Exposing misleading argumentation techniques reduces their influence

John Cook, Stephan Lewandowsky, Ullrich K. H. Ecker
May 5, 2017

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Further reading

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