Game vs fake news

Ella Rhodes reports on a new effort to tackle misinformation.

A game developed by psychologists to ‘vaccinate’ people against fake news about Covid-19 has recently been released with backing from the Cabinet Office. Go Viral! – developed by Dr Sander van der Linden (University of Cambridge) and colleagues – puts players in the shoes of someone spreading misinformation online, introducing people to some of their common tactics, to help them better identify fake news in the future.

In the face of what the World Health Organization (WHO) has described as a worldwide ‘infodemic’ van der Linden has been working for many years on ways to vaccinate the public against fake news in general and previously developed the game Bad News with Dr Jon Roozenbeek (University of Cambridge) which the Foreign Office had translated into 15 different languages. van der Linden said more recently the Cabinet Office was keen on using evidence-based communication campaigns to counter the spread of Covid-19 misinformation and helped to fund a professional and scalable version of the Go Viral! game.

The game, which takes around five minutes to play, exposes players to weakened doses of the ‘virus’ – in this case misinformation – which should ‘vaccinate’ players or help them to develop intellectual antibodies against such misinformation. ‘We specifically focus on the techniques that are common and prevalent in the spread of misinformation about Covid-19.

‘The game is divided in three levels, the “fearmongerer” which is about exploiting emotions to manipulate people online, including outrage), “my imaginary expert” which tackles the use of fake experts, such as Doctors of Natural Medicine peddling fake coronavirus cures and the final level is “Master of Puppets” which deals with contagious conspiracy theories, particularly around vaccines.’

Since its release van der Linden said the reaction he had received had been very positive. ‘The WHO has included the game in its mailing list and on their website and we recorded a video with the United Nations which they posted on their feed as well. At the end of the day, we are trying to help governments and international institutions combat fake news more effectively so it’s been great to see a real appetite for more evidence-based communications.’ 

To try the Go Viral! game see www.goviralgame.com and to read more on van der Linden’s inoculation work see: tinyurl.com/y3cgv6s8

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