The war in Ukraine has partially changed Czech attitudes towards refugees, but according to the European Commission it is still fairly negative.Refugees have long been a favorite topic of disinformation, so Google launched a campaign in the Czech Republic to dampen anti-immigrant sentiment. It runs for four weeks and he hopes to introduce the Czechs to some of the manipulator techniques they encounter on social networks.

The campaign is based on the so-called psychological vaccination principles that Research Director Jon Rozeenbeek told Aktuálně.cz in an interview a few days ago. “By showing how disinformation works, you give people antibodies so they will be more resistant to it in the future,” he explains. .

“Vaccines allow the body to ingest minute amounts of the virus and recognize it. Our method works in the same way. We need to be able to, at least to some degree, protect against disinformation,” said Beth Goldberg, director of Google’s Jigsaw research unit.

The project will run for 4 weeks and aims to introduce Czech manipulator techniques. Manipulator techniques are often unknowingly encountered in social networks. Advertisements on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter allow people to watch a one-minute video of him interactively explaining how to so-called scare and scapegoat.

Now these methods are most prominent in relation to the arrival of refugees from Ukraine, whose manipulators are betting on the divided attitude of the Czechs. Nevertheless, the public is more open to accepting Ukrainians fleeing Russian aggression than it was to accepting refugees from the Middle East and Africa a few years ago. Nevertheless, 75% of Czechs oppose Ukrainian refugees settling in the Czech Republic, according to a poll by the Polls Center.

According to the European Commission, Czechs have long had a negative attitude towards immigration compared to other European countries. The proportion of Czechs who perceive it as an imminent threat has decreased significantly since 2019.

“In the Czech Republic there is no clear sense of solidarity that the victims of the war deserve. Now I am not talking about the Czech government, but about the ordinary people. For them it is always conditioned by something They will tolerate the Czech government helping refugees as long as it does not sacrifice their comfort, ”said Camille Le Kozova, an analyst at the Brussels Institute for Migration Policy Aktuálně.cz told to

“It’s easy to influence people who are afraid of something.”

Google’s research unit Jigsaw has teamed up with scientists from the University of Cambridge to launch a campaign aimed at addressing anti-immigrant sentiment in society. She chose the Czech Republic for her pilot project precisely because these views prevail in the country. For the same reason, the campaign will also run in Poland and Slovakia.

“As far as I know, Czechs are very much a phenomenon of fear of emigration and that is why it is a topic of disinformation in the Czech Republic. People hear about it. , they believe it, and most of the time they don’t check the facts, which is exactly what we want to change,” explains Rozeenbeek. For the same reason, the campaign will also run in Poland and Slovakia.

According to the Elf Group in the Czech Republic, among the most shared misinformation interpretations on social networks in June and July, refugees were categorized as unworthy and unhelpful economic migrants or epidemics. There was something labeled as.

While explaining how to incite fear, Jigsaw exposes the misinformation’s efforts to cover up the facts. “It’s easy to influence people who are afraid of something to distract from the real reason refugees are here. That’s war,” he explains, one of the ad’s actors. .

‘Vaccinated’ people recognize misinformation and don’t spread it

A study of nearly 30,000 people proved that psychological vaccination methods work, but scientists also tested them in real-world settings on YouTube. Individuals who received it were actually better able to recognize misinformation. In the future, experts say, they are also less likely to spread them further.

“It was a non-political method that worked for conservatives and liberals. It also worked for users, whether they were conspiracy theory recipients or not. We saw an average of 5% improvement in users’ ability to perceive manipulation techniques after 24 hours,” explains Goldberg.

Preliminary research conducted by academics from the world’s elite universities shows that this method is slightly more effective than the usual verification and refutation of individual false claims. Lying is just one of his methods of manipulation, but there are others. Rozeenbeek points out that psychological vaccination should be the only way to fight hoaxes effectively.

“At the end of the day, all methods have one thing in common: fact-checking, media literacy, etc. At the same time, how disinformation is ‘generated’ and how it reaches people through the algorithms of social networks. should be considered. Because, of course, it was best to prevent the spread of disinformation from sources,” he concludes Rozeenbeek.

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