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Playing the viral game

| January 14, 2021 | 0 Comments

Researchers at the University of Cambridge’s Social Decision Making Laboratory in the UK have teamed up with Dutch media agency Drog to develop an online game called ‘Go Viral’

Created using funding from the UK Cabinet Office, ‘Go Viral’ teaches players how to detect fake COVID-19 news. It’s a novel approach: participants will become experts at disseminating false coronavirus information within the game’s universe, so that, say the researchers, they will be inoculated against such falsehoods in real life.

Players will interact on three levels, using their smartphones to play the game, which lasts approximately five minutes. The first level requires that players engage with a fake conspiracy theory sent to them via a series of increasingly emotional tweets. Once they’re enmeshed in the topic, players are asked to weigh in with their opinion by tweeting their choice of three words from a selection on offer. Players are then tasked with designing a fake-news snippet that is powerful enough to go viral. Then they are invited to join a chat group that is obsessed with COVID-19 conspiracies.

Players do not go through this experience alone. Supportive side-notes and warnings, provided by the game designers, remind them, for example, about research findings that the more terrifying a piece of news is, the more likely people are to become so anxious that they spread it. One of the warnings reads: ‘Beware: misinformation is designed to trick you. So why not walk a mile in the shoes of a manipulator to get to know their tactics from the inside?’ With such guidance, ‘Go Viral’ players learn the manipulative tactics of how to use fake experts, scapegoats and simplistic explanations to seemingly ‘corroborate’ flimsy claims.

Assistant professor of social psychology at the University of Cambridge and lead researcher, Sander van der Linden, calls this kind of education ‘pre-bunking’. Players are simultaneously taught to question facts as they learn how to create fake news themselves. Van der Linden’s team believes that playing the game can radically reduce the how much a person believes fake news. However, they’re also realistic about the power of fake news, saying that ‘Without regular “boosting” the effects dissipate within two months.

Category: Summer 2020

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