Personal Growth

This Game Lets You Create Mock Scandals by Writing Fake News

You know the feeling. You open up Twitter to see what's happening online, and ... hmm. Looks like the Illuminati is conspiring to put fluoride in our vaccines. That's what @OpenEyesMaverick666 says, anyway. Ever wonder how fake news gets around the world so fast? Maybe the best way to find out is to try to make some for yourself. That's why Cambridge University researchers have created a game that teaches you how to spread digital lies.

The Game of Lies

You start your journey as a fake news tycoon at GetBadNews.com, which guides you step by step in fooling people online. We're not talking about faking a fancy lifestyle for Instagram — we're talking about drumming up an army of Twitter bots and hoodwinking the unwary by the thousands.

The first thing you do as a propaganda mogul is rile up the internet with an inflammatory tweet. But an angry tweet won't go very far if you've only got a couple dozen followers. That's why you've got to take some more underhanded tactics: things like creating your own "news site" (it's as easy as opening a new Twitter account), taking on the personas of real-life experts (check the handle, is that @BillNye or @BilllNye you're talking to?), and hiring Twitter bots to spread your message far and wide.

As you progress through the game, you learn about how news-fakers pull on emotional triggers to get the reactions they want. You see how scandals can be summoned from any careless tweet. And you earn badges for accomplishments like "Polarization," "Conspiracy," and "Discredit." Basically, everything that an unscrupulous type would need to pull off successfully to fool you online. If you're good, you can direct the emotional storm you've summoned to enact real events in the world, like calling for an officials resignation over a scandal that you made up wholesale. Good for you?

A Mental Innoculation

So what's the point of building a how-to for making fake news? To end it for good. The goal was to arm potential victims of fake news with the tools they'd need to recognize it. It's already been proven that gaining an understanding of how misinformation spreads is an effective way to fight it. In earlier studies, showing people a milder version of the type of deceptive tactics they might encounter has kept them from falling for more insidious types later. By offering a peek behind the fake-news curtain, this game might do an even better job of overcoming those falsehoods. Go ahead, we dare you to try the game yourself — then see how you feel about the headlines you read online.

What Is Fake News?

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Written by Reuben Westmaas March 19, 2018

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