The Internet, Tech, Gaming, Now + Beyond

If you’re still struggling to spot fake news, Cambridge University has your back

Extra, extra! The Internet is filled with liars and their pants’ are definitely on fire.

Fake news is complicated. The term itself is a neologism and covers a helluva lot more than one might initially think. It’s rooted in propaganda and published with the intent to misinform the public. It’s also used to damage an agency, entity, or person for financial or political gains.

So, how do you learn to spot bullshit? By creating your own, of course.

Cambridge University, in collaboration with education developers DROG, released the game Bad News to help you do just that. Players take on the position of a fake news-monger. They then work the rounds to try and gain as much credibility as possible via unethical means.

Ethics, shmethics

Bad News draws on inoculation theory, positing that repeated exposure and an understanding of the “behind-the-scenes” of fake news will immunize players, thereby “vaccinating” us.

[Image description: A gray background screenshot features a fake Donald Trump tweet. The username reads Donald J. Trump and the tweet says “After long deliberation with my generals, I have decided to declare war on North Korea. #KimJongDone”.] Via screenshot taken from getbadnews.com

The game is simple and straightforward. Kicking off by accepting the position of Disinformation and Fake News Tycoon, you’re first coaxed into posting a frustrated tweet. There are three choices: the government is a failure, mainstream media is a conspiracy, or the Earth is flat.

From here, you spiral down a questionable path by pretending to be a fake news site to pretend-grow your followers and credibility. Your quest to undermine the truth is rewarded at six turns with a badge. Each is awarded when you learn the tactics commonly used to dupe news consumers and disseminate disinformation.

These include Impersonation, Emotion, Polarization, Conspiracy, Discredit, and Trolling. Handy tools in effectively dismantling the truth and seeding plants of distrust, doubt, and untruths among the community.

[Image description: A blue background screenshot featuring a red badge which sports a black shadow outline of a ski mask. The text underneath the badge reads: Impersonation: A minute ago you were just an angry citizen, now you’re a big shot editor-in-chief running a real news site.] Via screenshot taken from getbadnews.com

All in all, it’s disconcerting how easy it is to become a “legitimate” news source in the eyes of the public. The Internet and its many tools have made it fairly effortless to manipulate others.

Why care if it’s fake news?

It’s naive to think that even the smartest of us won’t fall for fake news but when you attach authority and mass dispersion to an article, it’s harder to not believe. After all, what are the chances that hundreds of thousands are being duped?

Pretty big.

In fact, fake news is dressed up so attractively that research has shown that 70 percent of false news pieces are more likely to be retweeted than true ones. Plus, it takes six times as long for true stories to reach 1,500 people than it does fake news.

The bullshit needs to stop

It’s come to a point where Google and a number of social networking sites signed codes of conduct to battle this issue. This action was no doubt prompted by instances such as the revelation that Facebook’s news feed algorithms were more prone to spitting out fake news than real.

Another prime example is when a video of Donald Trump was doctored. It showed him offering advice to the people of Belgium on climate change. The video provoked outrage among the Belgian community who were quick to direct their anger at the POTUS. A rare moment when Trump was actually innocent.

Another example is right here, within the fam. The Tempest’s CEO, Laila Alawa, was harassed online because of one The Daily Caller reporter who said “fuck it!” to the golden rule of journalism (fact-checking) and ran with an inaccurate story.

When bias and propaganda are attached to sensationalist headlines, it plays a huge role in fueling the fire of negative reactions. These often lead to knee-jerk, bad decisions.

So, while Bad News may seem like a simple game, it shows great promise in immunizing the public against fake news. Especially considering how video games have proven to be beneficial when it comes to learning.

And technology is definitely playing a part in curbing the fake news epidemic. Blockchain and AI are two of the many defenses being utilized. The responsibility, though, also falls on us – the consumers – to be vigilant and approach the news with a critical eye.