An online game designed to help people spot fake news amid the coronavirus pandemic has been launched by Cambridge University in partnership with the UK Government.
The game, called Go Viral!, puts players in the shoes of a purveyor of fake pandemic news.
It aims to give people a taste of the techniques used to spread fake news on social media so that they can better identify – and disregard – such misinformation in future.
A study from the team behind the game, published last week in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, indicated that a single play of a similar game can reduce susceptibility to false information for at least three months.
Dr Sander van der Linden, leader of the project and the Social Decision-Making Lab at Cambridge, said: “Fake news can travel faster and lodge itself deeper than the truth.
“Fact-checking is vital, but it comes too late and lies have already spread like the virus.
“We are aiming to pre-emptively debunk, or pre-bunk, misinformation by exposing people to a mild dose of the methods used to disseminate fake news.
“It’s what social psychologists call ‘inoculation theory’.”
The new game, which takes five to seven minutes to play, introduces players to the basics of online manipulation in the era of coronavirus.
It acts as a simple guide to common techniques: using emotionally charged language to stoke outrage and fear, deploying fake experts to sow doubt, and mining conspiracies for social media ‘likes’.
Dr Jon Roozenbeek, co-developer of Go Viral! and researcher at Cambridge’s Department of Psychology, said: “By using a simulated environment to show people how misinformation is produced, we can demystify it.
“The game empowers people with the tools they need to discern fact from fiction.”
Go Viral! is based on a previous version of the game which was launched in 2018, called Bad News.
Bad News has been played more than a million times and Cambridge researchers found that just one play reduced the perceived reliability of fake news by an average of 21% compared with a control group.
The research team, including media collective DROG and designers Gusmanson, argue that this neutralising effect can contribute to a societal resistance to fake news when played by many thousands of people.
Recent research published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene suggests that close to 6,000 people around the world were admitted to hospital in just the first three months of this year due to coronavirus misinformation, with many dying after consuming cleaning products.
The Go Viral! project began with seed funding from Cambridge University’s Covid-19 rapid response fund, and was then supported and backed by the UK Cabinet Office.
The collaboration is aiming to issue foreign language versions of the game across the globe – with the French and German translations already out.
– To play the game, go tohttps://www.goviralgame.com/en