Researchers at Cambridge University believe a psychological "vaccine" could help prevent the spread of "fake news" - in a study that on the face of it might also pass for a bogus story.
The research found that by pre-emptively exposing readers to a small "dose" of the misinformation can help organisations cancel out fake news.
In medicine, vaccinating against a virus involves exposing a body to a weakened version of the threat, enough to build a tolerance.
Social psychologists believe that, following the logic of medical vaccines, the public can be “inoculated” against misinformation.
The study, of more than 2,000 US residents, presented participants with two claims about global warming.
Researchers found that when presented consecutively, the influence well-established facts had on people were cancelled out by bogus claims made by campaigners.
But when information was combined with misinformation, the fake news had less resonance.
How that would work in the real world remains questionable.
Sander van der Linden, a social psychologist from the University of Cambridge, said: “Misinformation can be sticky, spreading and replicating like a virus."
He added: “We wanted to see if we could find a ‘vaccine’ by pre-emptively exposing people to a small amount of the type of misinformation they might experience. A warning that helps preserve the facts.
“The idea is to provide a cognitive repertoire that helps build up resistance to misinformation, so the next time people come across it they are less susceptible.” ®