Don’t Wait, Inoculate! Messaging to preempt disinformation

Countering disinformation can be difficult, especially because attempts to refute false information often result in repeating the falsehood, which can ironically give the disinformation more life.

One effective practice to combat disinformation is to get ahead of it with inoculation messaging. Inoculation messaging is a strategy that primes audiences by delivering factual information before audiences encounter the falsehood, while simultaneously discrediting the future disinformation by exposing its motives and techniques. 

Inoculation messages include a few essential components: priming the audience to recognize the falsehood by warning them about the impending disinformation and discrediting the argument by explaining the techniques and/or motivations behind it. Inoculation messaging works like a disinformation vaccine—exposing us to a weakened form of the disinformation and thereby helping us build resistance to future exposure. 

This ad run by Raphael Warnock’s 2020 campaign in Georgia for the U.S. Senate is an example of inoculation messaging at its best. 

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While running for the Senate from Georgia in 2020, Warnock was attacked multiple times by opponent Kelly Loeffler’s ads, which made many false claims about him. Rather than repeat the falsehoods Loeffler’s campaign was spreading about him, Warnock simply referenced the disinformation by saying that Loeffler’s campaign was “taking things out of context from over 25 years ago.” As you can see in the video, the ad also highlighted headlines indicating that the claims against him were false without referencing the lies themselves. Using humor also made the ad more memorable for audiences.

The Warnock campaign ad shows us that it is possible to counter disinformation without repeating it. By being as specific as possible without explicitly naming the perpetrators of the disinformation we can discredit them without giving them airtime, while simultaneously inoculating audiences against their false claims.


To learn more about strategies to combat disinformation, please visit our sections on messaging under the Start Your Comms Strategy module.