Online game to inoculate against propaganda, fake news

26 November 2018

The researchers hope that the Bad News online game can serve as inoculation against disinformation. You can try the game yourself (in Swedish) at www.badnewsgame.se.

Researchers at Uppsala University will investigate new methods to increase the ability of young people to critique digital sources.

Researchers Thomas Nygren and Nina Klang at Uppsala University will evaluate a method to “inoculate” young people against propaganda and disinformation by placing them in the same position as the people who create disinformation.

“There is a great need in schools for methods to improve the ability to critique sources and to reduce the effect of disinformation and propaganda,” says Thomas Nygren, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Education.

Bad News online game

The method of “inoculation” to be evaluated is the Bad News online game in which players acquire as many followers as possible without losing too much credibility. The players make use of six different strategies for disinformation: imitation, emotion, polarisation, conspiracy, discrediting and trolling.

Portrait of Thomas Nygren
Senior Lecturer Thomas Nygren.

“Much disinformation and propaganda is based on creating fear in the recipient. When you are afraid, it is harder for you to think. The game can be a bit dispiriting to play, but we hope you will become more alert to the various strategies and find it easier to think for yourself when you are actually exposed to disinformation.”

The method also includes teaching methods based on young people teaching young people. For this reason the Fryshuset Foundation will be involved in the project by visiting schools to explain the method.

Evaluating the effect

The first version of the Bad News game was published in the Netherlands in November 2017 by the DROG organisation, which is combating the spread of disinformation. The game was developed in collaboration with researchers at Cambridge University.

The game has attracted the attention of the European Commission, among others, as a constructive way to deal with the problems in Europe’s media world. But the game’s inoculating effect needs to be evaluated scholarly in teaching.

“There are tests that suggest the game has an inoculating effect, but we will now properly evaluate this.”

The researchers will make before-and-after measurements to determine whether the game and teaching methods have an effect, and if so, how large the effect is. The researchers will also develop teaching methods and evaluate them.

The idea behind the game is based on what is known as inoculation theory, which says that people can build up a resistance to false or misleading information by being presented with a weakened version of a misleading argument. If you can recognise the misleading argument, you will find it easier to resist the argument in a real situation.

Risk of distrusting everything

An important part of the research project is to investigate whether the game affects people’s trust in real news. The tests so far suggest that people’s attitude towards real news has not been affected, but that they became better at identifying the fake news.

“It is a big challenge to find ways to increase critical thinking about digital content without causing people to distrust everything indiscriminately. We need enlightened critical thinking about digital media.”

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Facts

The project “Peer education and gamification against polarisation” is financed by the European Union through funds from Erasmus+. The project is headed by Diversion in Amsterdam.

Other partners included in the project:

  • Association des États Généraux des Étudiants de L’Europe (Brussels)
  • Schwarzkopf-Stiftung Junges Europa (Berlin)
  • Fryshuset Foundation (Stockholm)

Read more

The Bad News game (in Swedish), including information sheets for teachers

Extensive interest in mass experiment on source criticism