Pre-Bunking Climate Change Misinformation

EarthTalk®
From the Editors of E – The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: What is “pre-bunking” regarding climate change?
— J.D., Albany, NY

Pre-bunking has grown in popularity, especially since the 2020 election. It is a way to combat misinformation by warning people about it before encountering it online or in real life. It attempts to anticipate false claims and provide accurate information to counter them. The strategy comes from a branch of social psychology research called inoculation theory. The theory is similar to that of countering vaccination conspiracies. If you can learn more about a specific topic, you will be more prepared to think critically about any information regarding said topic.

Despite increasing physical and scientific evidence proving climate change, misinformation still spreads like wildfire. Politicians and conspiracy theorists consistently spread false information online and offline. While debunking misinformation is a commonly used tool, it often doesn’t work well enough to combat the issue entirely. You also risk giving misinformation credibility when you have to debunk it.

Effective Pre-Bunking

Pre-bunking focuses on targeting broader concepts rather than specific claims. When specific claims are targeted, it is hard to avoid triggering partisan or emotional reactions. To successfully utilize pre-bunking, you must first choose which lie to pre-bunk. Some misinformation is more dangerous than others, so choosing the lie that will be most impactful to dispel is essential. One of the most effective techniques is to create a “truth sandwich.” Lead with the facts of the matter, then introduce the lie and why someone would lie about it. Lastly, end the sandwich with another fact.

Here’s an example of a typical claim and how to pre-bunk it: One claim is that the government was using wildfires as an excuse to increase climate regulations. To pre-bunk this claim, it must be explained that this theory will likely circulate. Second, point out how conspiracy theorists used the same idea to claim that COVID-19 lockdowns were a government scheme to prepare people for climate lockdowns, an event that never happened. Last, show how government agencies often communicate openly about the reasoning behind climate regulations and how they are utilized to avoid the maximum damage.

Does Pre-Bunking Really Work?

How effective is pre-bunking really? Enough evidence supports the use of pre-bunking that Twitter and Google are both embracing the strategy on their platforms. At Google, a team of academic psychologists conducted experiments using 90-second videos to explain common misinformation tactics. The study found that showing people the videos made them better at spotting misinformation tactics and less likely to circulate posts containing these tactics. Giving people the tools to spot and critique content online is crucial to fighting misinformation. Like anything else, pre-bunking isn’t a guaranteed solution.
Misinformation isn’t going to just disappear, but unless attempts are made to combat it, misinformation will only grow stronger.


*EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss for the 501(c)3 nonprofit EarthTalk. See more at https://emagazine.com. To donate, visit https://earthtalk.org. Send questions to: question@earthtalk.org.

EarthTalk
EarthTalkhttps://emagazine.com
EarthTalk® is produced by Roddy Scheer & Doug Moss for the 501(c)3 nonprofit EarthTalk. See more at https://emagazine.com. To donate, visit https://earthtalk.org. Send questions to: question@earthtalk.org.

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