A Game That Teaches You How to Spot Fake News
Researchers at the University of Cambridge have developed a game to help us all learn how to spot fake news sites and campaigns, by putting players in the role of disseminator.
“If you know what it is like to walk in the shoes of someone who is actively trying to deceive you, it should increase your ability to spot and resist the techniques of deceit,” says Dr Sander van der Linden, director of Cambridge University’s Social Decision-Making Lab. Researchers are calling the game a “psychological vaccine” against false news, especially anti-science misinformation campaigns like those surrounding autism, and vaccination.
“We want to help grow ‘mental antibodies’ that can provide some immunity against the rapid spread of misinformation,” van der Linden said.
Called ‘Get Bad News’, the free and public online game is, in part, based on existing studies of online disinformation, and takes cues from actual conspiracy theories about organisations like the United Nations. While India has yet to suffer from targeted, falsified campaigns in the same way the US or Ukraine has, the use of the Internet to proliferate misinformation means fake news is easily available and powerful outside its intended audience. (Also, let’s be real; it’s only a matter of time until this becomes a problem everywhere.)
“You don’t have to be a master spin doctor to create effective disinformation. Anyone can start a site and artificially amplify it through twitter bots, for example. But recognising and resisting fake news doesn’t require a PhD in media studies either,” says Jon Roozenbeek, one of the game’s designers. “We aren’t trying to drastically change behavior, but instead trigger a simple thought process to help foster critical and informed news consumption.”
We played the game — not so you don’t have to, but to convince you why you should. The game is delightfully outrageous, and while it starts fairly basic, by the end it had illuminated at least a couple of fake news tactics that we hadn’t considered before. It’s also highly suitable for kids, a fun way to teach preteens and older to identify what is fake news and to become critical consumers of media.
The game only takes a few minutes to complete, and researchers hope that players will then share it to help create a large anonymous dataset of journeys through the game, which they can use to refine techniques for increasing media literacy and fake news resilience in a ‘post-truth’ world.
“We try to let players experience what it is like to create a filter bubble so they are more likely to realize they may be living in one,” adds van der Linden.