July 26, 2019

Can media literacy be gamified? 

Some game developers think so, and there’s even research to back their effectiveness.

Last week’s IFCN newsletter rounded up a list of seven games that have been launched in recent years aimed at teaching users how to spot and fact-check misinformation they encounter online. 

The games each take different approaches toward educating digital news consumers, from a choose-your-own-adventure that puts the player in the shoes of a reporter to the IFCN’s own card game that takes place in a fictional country. 

Bad News, which was developed in the Netherlands, puts players in the role of a fake news writer and encourages them to get as many followers as they can without losing credibility. 

Research done at the University of Cambridge found that after completing the game, users were 21% less likely to believe fake news, concluding that Bad News increases “psychological resistance” to mis/disinformation. 

Fakey, developed by the Network Science Institute at the University of Indiana, uses a different strategy. It allows players to log in to their own Facebook or Twitter account, and then prompts them to react to posts on their feed. 

Players can either “Share,” “Like,” or “Fact-check” a post, and after they click one of these, they find out whether the article came from a mainstream source or a clickbait source. Depending on the players’ ability to spot bogus stories, their “skill” rating increases or decreases. 

The IFCN spoke with Mihai Avram, a doctoral student studying information science at the University of Illinois, about the development of Fakey and what impact he hopes the game will have. 

The following interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity. 

What inspired Fakey? Why did you decide to focus on people’s news feeds as the central idea of the game?

Fakey was inspired by discussing a way of studying and tackling the problem of misinformation in social media by treating each story as a “profile” similar to the “swipe” feature in dating/networking platforms such as Tinder, for instance. 

This was not my idea so I cannot take credit for it — my adviser Filippo Menczer came up with the idea and I merely corroborated and made it come to fruition. 

Deciding to focus on people’s news feeds was something we incorporated later on when creating the game in order to mimic social media experiences instead of swiping experiences.

We wanted to put users in a place where they would naturally interact with news and fake news alike and that was not on dating/networking platforms; it was on social media sites. Hence we wanted to simulate this world in the game.

Any challenges you ran into when developing it?

One of the challenges we faced was the notion of classifying what is misinformation and what is not. 

One of the caveats of the game is the fact that due to the nature of the game being automated (e.g. news is streaming and not checked by human fact-checkers), we had to come up with a strategy of programmatically labeling news content as “real” or “fake.” 

This is a very difficult thing to do that even humans struggle with. What we decided to do is to use the source of the article as a means of classifying whether the article is likely to come from a credible or non-credible source. 

We used various lists from fact-checking expert curators that constantly update the domains and state which sites could be publishing a lot of fake-news/misinformation/propaganda content etc. 

Hence we ended up having domains and labels for domains (e.g. fake-site.com tends to spread misinformation, clickbait, conspiracy, etc.) and we would gauge the grading of user answers based on these heuristic measures provided by experts.

How popular has the game has been? What are your hopes for the game’s impact?

Although I do not have precise metrics on this question, I can say that thousands of people have played it and a couple of dozen have played a lot and have expressed interest in using it in classrooms or spreading the word about it or offering suggestions for improvement. 

As with anything I do, I hope that it can be impactful; however, I am fully aware of the sacrifices and tough decisions that must be made in light of the complexity of the world, so it is difficult at times to decide on what needs to be done to optimize for impact.

Do you believe that games like this can truly help increase social media users’ media literacy? Was Fakey modeled after any other media literacy game that you’ve seen?

Yes, I do! Fakey was not modeled after any games; however, maybe some second-hand inspiration was drawn from the other media literacy games we have stumbled across such as Factitious, PolitiTruth, Get Bad News, Fake it to Make it and Post Facto, to name a few.

Did you design it with a specific audience demographic in mind?

It has been a recurring theme that using it for classrooms would be a good placement for this tool. 

We did not design it with any demographic in mind, however. If any focus was to be placed on this tool further, perhaps classroom placement is a great start.

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