We’ve already had a fake news ‘vaccine’ but now a video game has become the latest tool to stop people being lulled into believing news stories that quite simply aren’t true.
The game is meant to teach players to be more savvy about misinformation in the media, and how these fictitious accounts spread, to stop them falling victim.
In the game you take on the role of a fake news producer and score points by winning followers for peddling your conspiracy theories and (angry) tweets.
Research has previously shown that exposing people to the propaganda tactics being used to trick them helps to stop them being duped by them. Essentially it inoculates them against the danger.
Dr Sander van der Linden, director of Cambridge University’s Social Decision-Making Laboratory, said: “We want to help grow ‘mental antibodies’ that can provide some immunity against the rapid spread of misinformation.”
In this case it is hoped that the more people who play this game, the more they will be able to spot real fake news in their timelines or social media and therefore reduce the power it has to influence people’s opinions.
“Inoculation theory suggests that exposure to a weak or demystified version of an argument makes it easier to refute when confronted with more persuasive claims,” added Dr Sander van der Linden.
The game, which can be accessed via this website, is free for players to use: “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,” said the team.
Players set up fake news websites and are encouraged to manipulate public reaction to thorny topics such as climate change and genetic engineering.
The game works at different levels, involving a combination of false conspiracy theories – one being the claim that dinosaurs built the pyramids – and misinformation with a genuine history.
An example of the latter is the theory surrounding Agenda 21, a non-binding sustainable development action plan proposed by the United Nations in 1992.
The apparently innocent document sparked a cultish belief in some circles that it was the start of a plot to establish an eco-totalitarian world government.
Jon Roozenbeek, another member of the Cambridge team, said: “This really happened. The game shows how ridiculous it is.”
A pilot study in the Netherlands tested a paper version of the game on 95 students, focusing on the refugee crisis.
Players were tasked with distorting a government fact sheet on asylum seekers to produce fake news articles. They were found to be less easily taken in by fabricated news reports presented at the end of the experiment than students who had not played the game.