A simple online game works like a vaccine against fake news

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This Simple Online Game Could Work Like a 'Vaccine' Against Fake News
(Credit: University of Cambridge)

Several researchers have been finding out a way to stop the spreading of fake news, so they developed an online role-playing game. In February 2018, researchers from the University of Cambridge helped to launch the browser game called Bad News. Till now, thousands of people spent 15 minutes to complete it and many allowed the data to be used for the study. The simulation stoked anger and fear in players by manipulation of news and social media within the simulation. The game has shown positive results.

Dr. Sander van der Linden, director of Cambridge Social Decision Making Lab said that fake news spread quicker and easier than the truth and so fighting against it might be like losing a battle.  He also added that they wanted to see if they can make people identify between a hoax and real news by introducing them to a weaker dose of techniques used to generate false information. This is known as inoculation theory in the psychological version and it acts like a psychological vaccine. 

To measure the effects of the game the players were told to rate the reliability of a series of different headlines and tweets before and after a game.  The headlines had a random mixture of real and fake news. In a study paper published in Palgrave Communications showed that the perceived reliability of fake news has reduced to 21% after playing the game and it also showed that the people who were most likely to be influenced by fake news have been benefited a lot by this theory. 

Van said that playing the game for just 15 minutes has an average effect but if seen practically then it scales to thousands of people. A study co-author Jon Roozenbeek from Cambridge University said that they are shifting their target from ideas to tactics and by doing this they are hoping to create a general vaccine against fake news instead of trying to put different opinion specifying the falsehood. 

This game has attracted much attention and by working with UK Foreign Office the team has translated it into different languages which include German, Serbian, Polish and Greek. WhatsApp also commissioned the team to create this game for their platform. 

The researchers have also created a junior version of this game and this game had limitations but was equally advantageous too among each age group. The players have to earn six badges in the game which reflects a common strategy used by sellers of fake news but due to limited bandwidth, the questions measuring the effects were reduced to four badges. Roozenbeek added that their platform offers early proof to start building protection against duplicity by training people to deal with the techniques that promote fake news.

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