The Facebook post, which is being pushed to users in Germany via paid advertising, states in German “misinformation about Covid on the internet is a hidden danger.”
A video in the post then shows the somewhat inscrutable cartoon of a seagull pinching a colourful ice cream from a cone, followed by a further warning about false information regarding the pandemic.
Click through from the video and users can play a game, called “Go Viral”, that was designed by researchers at Cambridge University and aims to teach people about concepts such as “echo chambers” and emotive language on social media.
People who received the advertising were left wondering though if the money couldn’t have been better spent on public health messaging back in the UK, which is having a much harder time with the coronavirus pandemic than Germany.
“Hey UK government, quick question: why are you spending British taxpayers money on a) targeting me as a German living in Germany with Facebook ads b) trying to get me to play a game about fake news concerning Covid-19 which you have developed and translated into French and German,” one person asked below the post.
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One reader of The Local, who received the advert despite having his language settings in English said: “they sent it to me in German so they must think I'm German. Why would the UK want to educate Germans in Germany about Corona? I'm very confused.”
Facebook provides users with information on why they have been targeted with a particular ad. In the case of one user it told him had been targeted because he was interested in religion, married, a male between 25 and 44 years of age and resident in Berlin.
The developers of the game say that it works according to something called “inoculation theory.” The University of Cambridge claims that people who play the game can be “inoculated” against online misinformation for up to three months after playing.
The UK government was not able to provide The Local with details on the money that it has budgeted for advertising the game in Germany or in other countries outside the UK.
A cabinet office spokesperson said that “Germany and the UK work closely on countering disinformation and misinformation, including in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. We informed the German government of our intention to promote Go Viral! in Germany. This complements their own vital efforts to tackle the challenge of Covid-19 misinformation.
“Go Viral! is based on world-leading research and has been proven to improve the public’s critical reasoning and media literacy in order for them to identify false and misleading information.”
“It forms part of a wider campaign that the UK is delivering domestically and with our partners all over the world to ensure that citizens have the right information to protect themselves.”