An online game, in nine languages, among them in Greek, where users play the role of fake news producers, works effectively as a “vaccine” against misinformation as it helps people develop more psychological resistance to political and other propaganda when they meet it in reality at some point.
This was announced by British researchers at the University of Cambridge, who, in collaboration with the Dutch team DROG and Gusmanson, developed the online game-vaccine “Bad News” in 2018 and tested it this year for 15,000 people.
The game directs users to manipulate news and social media through bots on Twitter, manipulating photos, plotting conspiracy theories and polarizing views, trolling, creating fake IDs (e.g. simulation of being someone a politician) and other methods, with the common aim of attracting and deceiving in a convincing way as much as possible.
The researchers –led by Dr. Sander van der Linden, director of Cambridge’s Social Decision Making Laboratory– who issued the publication in “Palgrave Communications” magazine, announced that they are achieving a 21% reduction in the reliability of false news in those users who have completed the 15-minute online game. In other words, having developed psychologically “antibodies”, they then resist better to the lies “serving” to them.
Effectiveness varies according to the tactic of misinformation: for example, the “vaccine” reduces on average by 24% the posts with a counterfeit / fake ID, 10% the reliability of deliberately polarized publications, 19% the reliability of directed defamatory publications and postings (to harm one’s credibility), 20% the credibility of conspiratorial news and rumors, etc.
“Research shows that false news spreads faster and deeper than the truth, so fighting the disinformation in the future is like giving a lost battle”,
“Our game works as a psychological vaccine, unveiling fake news in advance by exposing people to an attenuated dose of the methods used to create and spread misinformation. In this way, people get a better understanding of how they can fall victim to deception.”
This proved when users were asked to evaluate the reliability of a series of news and tweets both before and after they had played the game-vaccine. They seemed to be more “suspicious” and cautious, and even the benefit (the effectiveness of the “vaccine”) is greater for those who are more vulnerable and more susceptible to misinformation.
“We found that 15 minutes of play have a modest profit on an individual level, but it is practically very important, if you take into account the benefit to thousands of people around the world, considering the terms of developing a social resilience against false news“,
Without a miracle, “Bad News” seems to “inoculate” almost as effectively anyone who plays it, regardless of age, educational level, gender and political beliefs. The game provides an ideological balance as it is deliberately designed so that the player can choose to create false news either “rightwing” or “leftwing”.
“WhatsApp” has already commissioned researchers to create a new similar game for the online messaging platform.
The researchers also created in ten languages a variant of the game for children from eight to ten years old.