Information literacy

Information Literacy is a Vaccine Against Misinformation


Using the vaccination method, understanding how Information Literacy can be a powerful tool in preventing the spread of misinformation.


Misinformation can feel inescapable, with many people regularly noticing false or misleading information online. However, social psychologist Sander van der Linden of the University of Cambridge proposes that we can inoculate ourselves against misinformation through a technique called “Prebunking.”

Van der Linden uses an analogy from the medical world to explain how misinformation operates like a virus. Just as a virus attacks by exploiting weak spots in our cells and hijacking their machinery, misinformation exploits cognitive biases to infect our memories and influence our decisions. One such cognitive bias is the illusory truth bias, which suggests that hearing something repeatedly, even if we know it is wrong, can make it seem more true.

To combat this, Van der Linden suggests a two-part technique called Prebunking. The first part is forewarning, which alerts people that someone may want to manipulate them, raising their skepticism and awareness. The second part involves providing people with a weakened dose of the misinformation and tips on how to refute it. This can help people be more resilient against misinformation.

Van der Linden’s research has also found that there are general techniques used to manipulate the spread of misinformation in a lot of different environments. For instance, in one study, people played a game called “Bad News” to help them understand the tactics used to spread fake news. This improved their ability to spot unreliable information by 20-25%.

Van der Linden further explains that by helping people spot manipulation techniques, they can be inoculated against a whole range of misinformation. For example, Van der Linden worked with Google to create a series of videos that make people more aware of manipulative techniques on YouTube, such as false dichotomy, also known as false dilemma, which is a manipulative technique that presents a situation as having only two options, when in reality there may be more. This creates a sense of urgency and pressure to choose one option over the other, often leading to a biased and limited decision-making process. It can be a common tactic used in misinformation and propaganda to push a certain agenda or viewpoint.



In conclusion, misinformation is pervasive, but we can inoculate ourselves against it through information literacy.


This article is a summary of the full interview with psychologist Sander van der Linden: There’s a Psychological ‘Vaccine’ Against Misinformation

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