Is Inoculation the Cure for Disinformation?

Melissa Fleming
We The Peoples
Published in
3 min readJan 16


The Cranky Uncle game uses cartoons and critical thinking to fight misinformation. The game was developed by Monash University scientist John Cook, in collaboration with creative agency Goodbeast. The game is now available for free on iPhone, Android, and as a browser game.

We know malicious lies are damaging our societies. But what can we do to stop them? Some pioneering countries and organizations have found a way to push back against that harm while safeguarding freedom of speech. Their answer is to inoculate people against disinformation, much as we do with diseases.

Every day we are bombarded by messaging, some of it malicious. In this environment, getting reliable and accurate information can be hard work. Yet few of us are properly equipped with the skills to filter out good information and discard the bad. The good news is we can easily be taught.

One effective way is known as inoculation. The process has three phases. First, we are warned in advance that bad actors are out to manipulate us with lies. Second, we are walked through some of the key techniques used to persuade us of falsehoods. Third, we are taught how to counter them.

Studies show that, much like with vaccines, exposing us to a weakened dose of manipulation can stop us falling for it next time we encounter it. But the timing here is crucial. We must be warned first — it’s much harder to dislodge ideas based on false claims once they have taken hold.

This process, sometimes known as “prebunking,” is gaining ground across the world as we search for a solution to disinformation. The catch-all education approach means that many falsehoods can be pre-empted ahead of time, without even having to know the details of what the next viral lie will be.

Even better, nobody has to fact-check or act as an arbiter of truth. Instead of us being told what to believe and risk us feeling under threat and shutting down to new information, we are empowered to establish for ourselves what is fact and what is fiction. It’s a powerful gift for anyone to receive.

One accessible way to do this is via online games. During the pandemic, the World Health Organization helped develop the game GO VIRAL! to protect users against COVID disinformation. Another, Cranky Uncle, inoculates people against misinformation about climate change.

Not everyone plays games. That’s why a recent campaign by Google subsidiary Jigsaw targeted viewers in Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic with short ads on YouTube warning about common manipulation tricks — illustrated with clips from The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Star Wars.

Both the games and the videos use a light touch to explain a range of manipulative and deceptive strategies, such as the use of strong emotive language, deploying false dichotomies, or scapegoating. All methods were found to make those who engaged with them more resilient to disinformation.

More broadly, we are talking here about improving media literacy skills. The media literate can fend off manipulative messages seeking to hack into their emotions, thoughts, and behavior. That’s why pioneering nations are teaching these skills as a central part of their anti-disinformation strategies.

Finland is one such place. The Nordic country has won many accolades for boosting its population’s resilience to malicious lies. Last year, it topped the Open Society Institute’s media literacy index for Europe, thanks in a large part to its innovative media literacy training schemes for young and old.

Other countries in the region are also breaking ground. In the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, media literacy drives are showing real results, with youth education projects, government guidelines, and training boosting critical thinking skills and resilience against malicious manipulation.

These are encouraging signs. But inoculation is no silver bullet. Psychological vaccines lose their impact after a while, just as some medical vaccines wane over time. We will need boosters. Yet there is hope that, as the idea spreads, we achieve herd immunity, and slow the spread of malicious lies.



Melissa Fleming
We The Peoples

Chief Communicator #UnitedNations promoting a peaceful, sustainable, just & humane world. Author: A Hope More Powerful than the Sea. Podcast: Awake at Night.