Bad News is the game teaching you about fake news

If you’re the sort who struggles to spot fake news unless it’s an article from The Onion, you may benefit from this University of Cambridge-made game.

Bad News, an online game from a team of Cambridge researchers, aims to help you understand how fake news is made and distributed. It plays out with the intention of turning you into “a disinformation and fake news tycoon”, highlighting the shady practices of creating fake news for distribution. Their aim is to help “vaccinate” the public and open their eyes to the spread of fake truths.

“The idea is that once you’ve seen the tactics, and used them in the game, you build up resistance,” said Sander van der Linden, director of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab. “We want the public to learn what these people are doing by walking in their shoes.”

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By using tactics that real fake news empires run by, you have to grow a virtual following of readers and social media fans, plant seeds of falsehoods into reader’s minds, divide united forces and deflect unwanted attention when your sweatshop of fake news is uncovered.

The real impact of player actions come to light as Bad News continually asks if you’re happy with the actions you’ve committed. Those who are twinged by shame receive a notification telling them that they need to be ruthless to succeed, stating “if you want to become a master of disinformation, you’ve got to lose the goody-two-shoes attitude”.

Interestingly, every action you perform in the game is logged and van der Linden and his team will use it to assess the tactics that players used to spread falsehoods. This information won’t transform how fake news is tackled online, but it will show how people believe fake news should spread to be effective.

Findings from the game will be published in the Journal of Risk Research.

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Bad News isn’t the first game of its ilk to come out but, due to its focus on the recent fake news scandals, it’s one of the most pertinent. Games like The Westport Independent shows what it’s like to produce news under a totalitarian regime, tackling either the virtues of honest journalism under the threat of your life or bowing to your masters and having a comfortable job. Even Papers Please does a similar role of showing you what propaganda and disinformation can do to transform a society.

Bad News isn’t trying to make quite the same point, but it is signalling the signs of how the world can be a better place if everyone just knew how to spot fake news more effectively.

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