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Computer game may help students better spot disinformation, new study shows

A computer game where you play the bad guys can help students better spot disinformation techniques, a new study shows.

Researchers have developed a computer game to help students better spot fake news, according to a study.

Their experiment involved 516 Swedish upper secondary school students from four different institutions.

The game, called Bad News, was created through a collaboration between researchers from the University of Cambridge and video game studios.

In Bad News, the user plays “the role of fake news-monger” to get people accustomed to manipulation techniques used to mislead an audience.

The game breaks down six practices commonly levered in misinformation: impersonation, emotion, polarisation, conspiracy, discrediting, and trolling, according to the studio that developed the game.

“This is an important step towards equipping young people with the tools they need to navigate in a world full of disinformation,” Thomas Nygren, a professor of education at Uppsala University in Sweden and one of the study authors, said in a statement.

“We all need to become better at identifying manipulative strategies since it is virtually impossible to discern deep fakes, for example, and other AI-generated disinformation with the naked eye,” he added, referring to a technique called “prebunking”.

The team published their study in the Journal of Research on Technology in Education.

Students participated in the game individually, in pairs, or with their class using a shared scorecard, with all three approaches yielding positive outcomes.

“The students improved their ability to identify manipulative techniques in social media posts and to distinguish between reliable and misleading news,” Nygren said.

The researchers also explored why students become better at identifying misinformation after playing the game.

The researchers found that including competitive elements in the game increased interest levels.

“Some people believe that gamification can enhance learning in school. However, our results show that more gamification in the form of competitive elements does not necessarily mean that students learn more – though it can be perceived as more fun and interesting,” Nygren added.

In addition to “inoculating” users against misleading content, the authors noted that the game also encouraged favourable attitudes towards trustworthy news sources.

Serious games – fully developed games designed with a specific educational or training purpose in mind – are finding increasing application in public campaigns.

The Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab developed two other serious games: Harmony Square produced with the US Department of Homeland Security and is specifically about election misinformation and Go Viral!, which targets COVID-19 misinformation.


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