Prebunking - protection against disinformation
Nobody wants to fall for disinformation and fake news. However, it is tedious to carefully check every piece of content on the Internet for its sources. To protect yourself from fake news, it helps to know the most common manipulation techniques. False information often uses the same deceptive strategies or narratives.
klicksafe presents some of these manipulation strategies here. The approach to educate people preventively about the mechanisms of disinformation is called Prebunking. While debunking involves correcting specific false reports after they have spread, prebunking has a preventive effect. This provides an opportunity to proactively combat misinformationbefore it spreads. By providing information and analytical tools, resilience to misleading content is strengthened.
The strategies described below are not only applied to disinformation. They can also occur, in a weakened form, in media reporting. For example, when a single, extreme statement is strongly emphasized or highly emotionalized language is used. Always question information critically if you notice these techniques.
Decontextualization involves deliberately placing texts, images, or videos in the wrong context. Important background information that could give the statements a different meaning is omitted or ignored. This can lead to people being misinformed and forming their opinions based on misleading information. Prebunking can help mitigate the effects of decontextualization.
Decontextualization occurs, for example, when only a short statement is quoted from a longer interview. Without the context of the entire interview, the impression can then arise that the interviewee represents a controversial position. This is despite the fact that he or she has argued in a very balanced and considered manner in the interview.
Search engines can help in detecting decontextualization. They can be used to research further information about a statement, an image or a video. In the case of images, for example, a simple reverse search is often sufficient (possible with Google, for example). In this way, it is possible to find out whether a picture actually shows the claimed situation or not. If one is unsure about a report, it is useful to check whether well-known news portals also report on the facts. If a news item can only be found on social media and no one else is reporting on it, caution is advised. It could be a false report.
Scare tactics are used to create fear, confusion or uncertainty in people. This manipulation strategy aims to elicit emotional responses in order to limit rational thinking. Prebunking can help expose this manipulation strategy and respond rationally.
For example, emotionalizing terms are used to make people panic. These include words like "dramatic," "horrific," or "horror." Such terms are primarily intended to trigger the emotions of fear, anger or worry. By activating these emotions, rational thinking is impaired and people more readily accept misleading information.
However, scare tactics can also be reflected in the selection of information. In particular, dangers are strongly emphasized, although there is no reason for this. This tactic is often used, for example, when people are agitated against migrants. For example, it is claimed that the number of violent crimes will increase due to immigration (triggers fear). Or if too many people lived in a country, there would no longer be enough work for everyone (triggers concern). Or migrants would unlawfully exploit the welfare system (triggers anger).
So when you read highly exaggerated claims or alarmist statements, you should be skeptical. Alarmism often aims to evoke emotion and bypass rational thought. Therefore, one should always check claims that portray the extreme and unrealistic scenarios with other sources such as established news portals. Attention: scaremongering is also often used to achieve a large reach in social networks. This is because many people have the impulse to inform others as quickly as possible about supposed dangers or injustices. Prebunking supports critical questioning and level-headed reactions. If one notices that a message is using scare tactics, one should under no circumstances share or disseminate it further without being checked. In this way, you can avoid falling for manipulation attempts.
The word whataboutism is derived from the English sentence starter "What about ...?". In German, this is comparable to "But what about ...?". Whataboutism, then, means deflecting from an original argument or criticism by pointing to another issue. Instead of addressing the original issue, the focus is directed to something else, often through the use of "But what about...?" or similar phrases. Prebunking raises awareness that whataboutism is used to confuse the discussion or distract from one's position. In addition, it can be a tactic to avoid responding to original criticism.
Whataboutism is often used in conversations or discussions. However, this tactic can also occur in disinformation. If a contributor to the introduction of a speed limit on the highway argues that much more pollution is emitted by the industry, that would be an example of whataboutism. This is because there is no discussion of the pros and cons of the speed limit in terms of pollution with arguments. Instead, the statements "But what about the industry?" are used to refer to another problem area in order to divert the discussion from the actual topic.
When one notices that Whataboutism is being used, one should become suspicious. Because whataboutism is a sign that a content does not want to inform in a balanced way about a fact, but that a certain opinion or agenda is spread.
The video campaign on prebunking was developed by Google, Jigsaw and the Moonshot agency. Other partner organizations that participated include Correctiv, Alfred Landecker Stiftung, Amadeu Antonio Stiftung, Das NETTZ, Neue Deutsche Medienmacher:innen and klicksafe. Similar prebunking campaigns have already been implemented in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland.