Study of thousands of players shows a simple online game works like a “vaccine”, increasing skepticism of fake news by giving people a “weak dose” of the methods behind disinformation.
Our platform offers early evidence of a way to start building blanket protection against deception, by training people to be more attuned to the techniques that underpin most fake news
An online game in which people play the role of propaganda producers to help them identify real world disinformation has been shown to increase “psychological resistance” to fake news, according to a study of 15,000 participants.
In February 2018, University of Cambridge researchers helped launch the browser game Bad News. Thousands of people spent fifteen minutes completing it, with many allowing the data to be used for a study.
Players stoke anger and fear by manipulating news and social media within the simulation: deploying twitter bots, photo-shopping evidence, and inciting conspiracy theories to attract followers – all while maintaining a “credibility score” for persuasiveness.
“Research suggests that fake news spreads faster and deeper than the truth, so combatting disinformation after-the-fact can be like fighting a losing battle,” said Dr Sander van der Linden, Director of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab.
“We wanted to see if we could pre-emptively debunk, or ‘pre-bunk’, fake news by exposing people to a weak dose of the methods used to create and spread disinformation, so they have a better understanding of how they might be deceived.
“This is a version of what psychologists call ‘inoculation theory’, with our game working like a psychological vaccination.”
To gauge the effects of the game, players were asked to rate the reliability of a series of different headlines and tweets before and after gameplay. They were randomly allocated a mixture of real (“control”) and fake news (“treatment”).
The study, published today in the journal Palgrave Communications, showed the perceived reliability of fake news before playing the game had reduced by an average of 21% after completing it. Yet the game made no difference to how users ranked real news.
The researchers also found that those who registered as most susceptible to fake news headlines at the outset benefited most from the “inoculation”.
“We find that just fifteen minutes of gameplay has a moderate effect, but a practically meaningful one when scaled across thousands of people worldwide, if we think in terms of building societal resistance to fake news,” said van der Linden.
Jon Roozenbeek, study co-author also from Cambridge University, said: “We are shifting the target from ideas to tactics. By doing this, we are hoping to create what you might call a general ‘vaccine’ against fake news, rather than trying to counter each specific conspiracy or falsehood.”
Roozenbeek and van der Linden worked with Dutch media collective DROG and design agency Gusmanson to develop Bad News, and the idea of a game to inoculate against fake news has attracted much attention.
Working with the UK Foreign Office, the team have translated the game into nine different languages, including German, Serbian, Polish and Greek. WhatsApp have commissioned the researchers to create a new game for the messaging platform.
The team have also created a “junior version” for children aged 8-10, available in ten different languages so far. “We want to develop a simple and engaging way to establish media literacy at a relatively early age, then look at how long the effects last,” said Roozenbeek.
This first set of results from Bad News has its limitations, say researchers. The sample was self-selecting (those who came across the game online and opted to play), and as such was skewed toward younger, male, liberal, and more educated demographics.
With this in mind, however, the study found the game to be almost equally effective across age, education, gender, and political persuasion. Bad News has ideological balance built in: players can choose to create fake news from the left and right of the political spectrum.
There are six “badges” to earn in the game, each reflecting a common strategy used by purveyors of fake news: impersonation; conspiracy; polarisation; discrediting sources; trolling; emotionally provocative content.
Due to limited bandwidth, in-game questions measuring the effects of Bad News were deployed for four of its featured fake news badges.
For the disinformation tactic of “impersonation”, often seen in the mimicking of trusted personalities on social media, the game reduced perceived reliability of the fake headlines and tweets by 24% from pre to post gameplay.
Bad News gameplay reduced perceived reliability of deliberately polarising headlines by about 10%, and “discrediting” – attacking a legitimate source with accusations of bias – by 19%.
For “conspiracy”, the spreading of false narratives blaming secretive groups for world events, perceived reliability was reduced by 20%.
“Our platform offers early evidence of a way to start building blanket protection against deception, by training people to be more attuned to the techniques that underpin most fake news,” added Roozenbeek.
The Latest on: Fake news vaccine
via Google News
The Latest on: Fake news vaccine
- In-Depth: What's changed in the FDA's new coronavirus vaccine guidelineson October 7, 2020 at 6:54 pm
The Food and Drug Administration has released new guidelines to vaccine makers with added safety measures that experts say will push back the timeline, making the release of a COVID-19 vaccine before ...
- Virus Outbreak: Philippine anti-vaccine groups go viral onlineon October 7, 2020 at 11:17 am
Online misinformation is leaching out from cheap mobile phones and free Facebook plans used by millions in the Philippines, convincing many to reject vaccinations for polio and other deadly diseases.
- The COVID-19 Vaccine Protest Movement Is Far Ahead of the Vaccine Itselfon October 7, 2020 at 8:44 am
Extremism, instability, and a contorted new definition of “civil liberties” have fed into a global anti-vax movement at the worst possible time.
- US Drug Oversight Agency Issues New Guidelines on COVID-19 Vaccine Approvalon October 7, 2020 at 4:43 am
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a set of strict new guidelines for emergency authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine in defiance of strong objections from the Trump administration. The ...
- COVID-19 roils presidential campaign: US election newson October 6, 2020 at 6:23 pm
President Trump’s next campaign moves unclear as new COVID-19 cases emerge and Democratic rival Joe Biden pushes forward ...
- The Infodemic: US Military Won't Forcibly Administer Vaccineson October 6, 2020 at 4:17 pm
The military will be used to forcibly administer COVID-19 vaccines when they become available. Circulating on social media: Video with a message warning people not to take the Covid-19 vaccine as it ...
- No, the government hasn’t released plans to force COVID-19 vaccine on peopleon October 6, 2020 at 9:11 am
There’s no vaccine yet to protect against COVID-19 — just furious efforts underway to develop one. But a recent blog post makes a big claim: that "the government has released ...
- The Queen stands against fake news crackpots and antivaxxers who threaten us all – COMMENTon October 6, 2020 at 2:24 am
ONE of the scariest things I have seen recently is a survey conducted by University College, London. They asked 70,000 people about their attitude to a possible COVID-19 vaccine. You might expect that ...
- Do Twitter bots spread vaccine misinformation? Research shows it’s not that simpleon October 4, 2020 at 9:23 pm
Twitter users in the United States saw many tweets related to vaccination but only rarely encountered anti-vaccine content and almost never saw content from bots.
- Column: When a fast-tracked COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, will you get it?on September 29, 2020 at 4:24 pm
This decision will soon be our new social dilemma, though the primitive politics of human nature can be just as contagious as this new virus.
via Bing News