Saturday, August 14, 2021

How Good Are You at Spotting Fake News?

Anyone who knows me in real life knows that I am fascinated by fake news, misinformation, and disinformation. There are so many nexuses to that issue, from sociology to technology to science communication to media studies to political science and the list goes on. (It's also a U.S. government priority with respect to my Foreign Service track, Public Diplomacy.) As it's a hot topic in academia right now, there's a lot of scholarship coming out about how we can understand misinformation and combat it.

One of the areas of research that intrigues me the most is called "prebunking", the idea that you can "inoculate" people against false information by introducing them to techniques bad actors use to manipulate people and spread fake news. There are a number of quick, free online games produced by top research institutions and universities that have shown to produce statistically significant improvement in users' ability to identify misinformation and change behavior.

Do you think you're good at spotting fake news and manipulation techniques online? Here are some free games and quizzes you can play in your browser where you can test your misinformation knowledge:

  • Spot the Troll: This quiz tests to see if you can spot which social media accounts are trolls or real people. My favorite part is that the makers of the game use real accounts and then provide in-depth analyses you can choose to read if you want on the troll accounts. This one was harder than I expected!
  • Fakes? No Thanks!: This very quick quiz lets you pick a topic and gives you just 20 seconds to determine whether 16 snippets of articles, social media posts, or memes about that subject are true or false. This one was also tougher than I thought it would be, and it led me to realize a particular image I've seen and believed for years was fake.
  • Bad News: This game has you pretend to be a fake news-generating mastermind. It's a little grim going through these techniques and realizing just how common they are, but it does help you recognize better when someone is trying to pull one of these tricks on you.
  • Go Viral: This one is similar to Bad News, but it's shorter and specifically focused on COVID-19 misinformation.
  • Troll Factory: This is similar to Bad News, except it uses actual social media posts people made in real life and is focused on anti-immigration trolls in a European context. This one needs a big content warning: some of the social media content is extremely offensive (I saw racist, violent, and Islamophobic language when I played).
  • Breaking Harmony Square: This game has you use disinformation to wreck a town. Unlike Troll Factory, the storylines are fake, wholesome, and less politically charged so it's more accessible to a wider audience.
  • Fake It To Make It: This is by far the most complex of all the games, as the others are generally just click-through decision trees while this one lets you manage a budget, name and choose designs for your fake news sites, and more.
  • BBC Bitesize quiz: Can you spot the signs of fake news? This isn't so much a "game" as a quick "find the differences" type of exercise. There are nine indicators that a particular news article is fake. If you miss any of them, you can scroll down and watch a video explaining all nine.

What I love about those games and quizzes is that they're informative but also fun. It seems counterintuitive that providing information on what bad actors are doing could prove helpful for society (instead of just helping manipulative people be more manipulative), but the reality is fake news generators already know what they're doing. The key is to help us, the people being targeted, realize what they're doing before we fall for it. And all people - no matter how smart, how critically thinking, or how educated - are vulnerable to manipulation that plays on our pre-existing beliefs and biases. We all have a part to play in stopping the spread of fake news and verifying information before we share it. If you know of any other games or resources on this topic, feel free to comment below!

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