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You Snooze, You Lose: ‘Fake News’ Game + Misinformation Research

As I sit here playing this ‘Fake News’ game by developers Bad News, I can’t help but feel like I’m channeling every villain straight out of an animated Disney movie—the maniacal chuckle paired with the twirling of my fingers in pursuit of my diabolical plan which is to sway and misinform the masses into utter chaos. Of course, the purpose of this game is to educate users on misinformation. Use your power for good, not evil please.

Before we press play, let’s take a closer look at the nooks and crannies of the ‘Fake News’ Game and its hot pursuit of educating the masses on understanding and detecting misinformation—through this article from CNN.

CNN likens mis/disinformation or the infamous ‘fake news’ as a virus or disease that is in desperate need of an antidote.

Considering this article was written in July of 2019, well before the pandemic, the dark irony between ‘fake news’ being a virus and in need of a vaccine is not lost on me—especially with the loads of health and vaccine misinformation running amuck.

CNN states studies showed that creating fake news through a game is a better way to acknowledge it and “resist”—which reminds me of another study by Neil Postman which stated that students who actively participated in creating propaganda were then able to “learn about the social responsibilities of digital authorship.”

It’s kind of like riding a bike or swimming. You can be verbally told how to do either, but physically learning how to swim or ride a bike is the best way to learn—and quickly.

“For what one has to learn to do, we learn by doing.”
– Aristotle

My only qualm? Other factors that are at play—such as confirmation bias and pre-concieved notions—aren’t mentioned in the article as obstacles in terms of educating the masses on misinformation. Does one’s confirmation bias on health and political information overshadow how much knowledge one has on detecting misinformation? If someone already has confirmation bias on a topic such as the vaccine, how will they un-learn that?

The article suggests that people are easily “duped” or “confused” by the misinformation they see and then pass on. Which brings me to my biggest takeaway from this article: at the end of the day, we aren’t helpless beings! There are ways we can educate ourselves to better understand what misinformation looks like and how to detect it.

The ‘Fake News’ game by BadNews is a good start, click here to play.

You’ve Leveled Up!

To win this game, you must be a villainess of information—which means having to ability to sow doubt and fear amongst patrons of the Internet through memes, tweets and false news articles.

May the worst person win.

I’m not being dramatic, by the way— the more diabolical you are playing this game, the better you will do. I imagine the purpose behind this game is to recognize the various elements of misinformation that bad actors can use for political or financial gain. As shown above, there are six badges of misinformation I collected as a result of winning the game.

  • Impersonation
  • Polarization
  • Discredit
  • Trolling
  • Conspiracy
  • Emotion

Only one of these badges was shocking to me—and that was ‘Discredit’. During the game, a fact-checker had tweeted about the falsification of information from my newly created news outlet. The game allowed me to make up a false story about the fact-checking website to sow more doubt and gain more followers. Turns out, if you want to win the game of mis/disinformation, you don’t need to write things that are true, you only need to discredit those who say otherwise.

This reminds me of the events that stirred after the 2020 Presidential Election when false information was found snaking through the Internet claiming to discredit the integrity and results of the election. USA Today touches on several memes and posts that were spread through social media in order to achieve that goal.

By the end, I felt like I had gained some kind of Villain Academy degree. I managed to win the game by being as devious as possible.

While the creator of this game seemed worried about bad actors using its interface to gain some (not so) bright ideas on ways to spread disinformation, I can only hope that all of you choose to be the Harry Potters of the world—not Voldemorts.

Games are a great way to get people to learn something—especially when there are badges involved. Who wouldn’t want to collect all badges? I’m sure there is a psychological factor to people wanting to win a game, even if it is educational—in fact, there is.

Would it be too cheeky of me to send this game to family members to play?

Level Up: Into the World of Research

Looking further into research from an article by Business Standard, the article’s overall findings state: “People who believe that truth is shaped by politics and power are also more likely to embrace falsehoods.” And in general, people who trust their intuition when viewing news are more likely to believe conspiracy theories.

To me, this sounds a lot like confirmation bias, in that, people who don’t trust the traditional news institutions or feel that the mainstream news is controlled by politicians and others in power due to pre-conceived ideals are more likely to be swayed by misinformation.

The first red flag that came to my attention: there is no outside link to the study itself for readers to look further into the research. A study by Joseph Turrow and Lokman Tsui suggests hyperlinks to sources enhance a news report’s credibility and transparency.

Ignoring that, and looking further into the contents of the article, I found that the research design is made up of a representative sample, which indicates the sample should closely portray various demographics such as race, gender, party affiliation, education and religion.

Screenshot from the Business Standard article

The only issue is that the article doesn’t state what characteristics make up the representative survey. This is the second red flag.

Although each sample size is just 500-1,000 people, the survey was conducted three times. So, roughly 3,000 people at most were surveyed. According to Pew Research, this is a decent sample size in proportion to the American population—as long as the sample is selected at random and representative to the population.

With this in mind, I do believe the researcher’s findings can be generalized to a broader population. But the question about the findings are almost made illegitimate by the lack of context, depth and outside sourcing.

Screenshot from the Business Standard article

I found the article left much to be desired in terms of the study’s context. I was left with so many questions burning in my mind: Is it a ‘yes or no’ based questionnaire or is it a spectrum of possible answers such as “most likely” to “least likely”? What is the environment of the survey? Were respondents emailed, telephoned, or was this conducted in-person? Lastly, what were all the twelve questions asked? The article only lists three of the twelve questions for context and reference. There is also no data to be found in the article—just the words “most likely” and “least likely”. (This wording is also vague and could mean anything—’most likely’ could mean 55%, which is technically most of a sample, but without context it can be seen as misleading.)

While reporting about this kind of research is certainly beneficial to the public—as it gives readers a deeper insight as to why certain people are more prone to misinformation than others— news outlets that report about research should be more vigilant with how transparent they are being in conveying the structure, design and results of the study.

Congratulations, Level Completed!

*all graphics are from Canva and are free to use

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