Factually: Games to teach media literacy

In this newsletter, we spend a lot of time highlighting how misinformation is a global problem. To that end, fact-checkers and others are trying to promote more media literacy worldwide — and some of those efforts are quite fun.

In the past few years, several games aimed at teaching people fact-checking skills and how to spot misinformation have launched. They range from putting users in the shoes of fake news generators to simulating what it’s like to be a broadcast reporter deciding which sources to trust.

Why games? Kathleen Hall Jamieson, co-founder of Factcheck.org and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania — which came out with its own media literacy game in October — told Daniel at the time that it comes down to how students learn.

“If what you’re trying to do is increase the agency of students, the interactivity of an online game is educationally or pedagogically useful,” she said. “The assumption was that it was a better way to engage them and do something important.”

Here are seven games we think anyone interested in media literacy should try.

1. Bad News

In this game developed by DROG, a Netherlands-based organization aimed at fighting misinformation, users play the role of a fake news writer. The goal: Get as many followers as you can while building up bogus credibility. You lose if you tell “obvious lies or disappoint your supporters.” A recent study from the University of Cambridge found that playing Bad News increases “psychological resistance” to misinformation.

2. BBC iReporter

The BBC launched this game in 2018 in a bid to help children ages 11-18 identify misinformation online. The choose-your-own-adventure game puts users in the shoes of a BBC journalist who has to decide which social media posts, political claims and photos they can trust. Tips on how to spot online fakery are included.

3. Fakey

Developed by a master’s student at Indiana University, Fakey is a game similar to iReporter. It simulates a social media news feed, where users are asked which posts they’d like to share, like or fact-check. Users score points by sharing content from credible news outlets and fact-checking questionable sources.

4. NewsFeed Defenders

This online simulation from the Annenberg Public Policy Center and iCivics, an education nonprofit, aims to teach people how to evaluate sources online. Users pick their own avatar and are tasked with choosing which posts to curate on their website and which to investigate.

5. Interland: Reality River

This game was developed by Google’s Be Internet Awesome Initiative, which aims to teach children the “fundamentals of digital citizenship,” and it shows. The top-notch graphics take users on a journey across a river guarded by a “phisher.” Users must answer questions about bogus phishing attempts to cross and win the game.

6. Factitious

Having made a splash with its debut in 2018, this game, developed by American University, clocked about 1.6 million articles played in the first three days of its existence. What does that mean? In Factitious, users have to read short news stories and swipe right if they think they’re real and swipe left if they think they’re fake.

7. Fact-Check It!

Finally, we’re partial to this role-playing card game developed by the IFCN for International Fact-Checking Day on April 2. It takes place in a fictional country where players have to operate a newsroom and verify 25 different news items that will inform editorials published on the day of an election.

. . .   technology

  • What’s more problematic, the troll or the content? Fact-checker and writer Brooke Binkowski wrote in USA Today this week that tech companies “banning individual trolls is about as effective as a Band-Aid on a sucking chest wound.”
  • Social media companies’ efforts to stem the spread of fake medical cures “has been bizarre, partial, and in some cases, not permanent,” Anna Merlan wrote for GizmodoThe Guardian also published an article about how the internet is full of bogus claims about cures for cancer.
  • Facebook has more than 50 fact-checking partners in a variety of different countries around the world. But as Frontier Myanmar magazine pointed out this week, there are none currently operating in Myanmar — where misinformation has contributed to the ongoing Rohingya Muslim refugee crisis.

. . .  politics

  • Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has asserted that Russian bots are targeting her presidential bid. While her campaign has been the target of attacks online, it’s not clear the Russians are behind them, CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan wrote. It’s an example, he said, of how the phrase “Russian bots” has become “a catchall description of any disinformation spread online.”
  • What is the state of fact-checking organizations in the Arab world? In this piece for the IFCN, Daniela Flamini takes stock of the projects that are on the frontlines of online misinformation — and the challenges they face in the region. Another article from Flamini this week: How has misinformation affected the Hong Kong protests?
  • Slate published a story about how congressional attempts to regulate against deepfake videos are flawed. “Congress’ haste is written all over the two bills already introduced,” Nina Iacono Brown wrote. Meanwhile, Nieman Lab published a story about how governments that are legislating against misinformation “risk stifling real journalism.”

. . .  the future of news

  • The language of misinformation is complex. This week, Snopes explained why it’s not using the phrase “fake news” anymore. (We tend to avoid it, too, unless it’s in a quote.) Another person who eschews it: Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, according to this Guardian profile.
  • Misinformation is among the factors contributing to the dangers that journalists face today, Jane Martinson wrote in the Guardian this week. “Lies also lead to physical rage,” she said, noting that during the recent elections in India, the BBC identified at least 25 lynch mob deaths after fake rumors spread on social media.
  • Last week, we highlighted how there are still several copycat versions of DeepNude, software that leverages artificial intelligence to generate manipulated pornographic images. Writing for the IFCN, Cristina Tardáguila reported on cases in which those apps have affected real people around the world.

Have you heard about that new study showing mankind has little effect on climate change? If so, you were probably watching Fox News, or reading InfoWars or Breitbart or any number of conservative outlets that amplified the research from Finland, which concluded that clouds are the real culprit.

Climate Feedback recently dismantled the study, even noting that it really isn’t a new published study. Rather, it said, the claim that humans have not caused climate change comes from a six-page document uploaded to a website scientists use to make manuscripts available before publication.

“This means that this article has not been peer-reviewed, so there is no guarantee to its credibility,” Climate Feedback noted.

Nobody breaks down the science like Climate Feedback, or, we should say, their scientist contributors. That is the site’s method — a crowd-sourced review from a community of scientists with relevant expertise to the topics covered.

In this case none of the scientists held back. “Deeply flawed,” one called it. Another said it “would not pass peer review.” A third said: “Utterly unjustified.” And it goes like that for seven scientists in a row.

The bottom line, one of them noted, is that websites promoting the paper are ignoring the “well-documented scientific consensus that human activities have made a substantial contribution to the observed warming of the Earth’s surface.”

What we liked: A layperson or journalist who doesn’t cover science might not understand all the technical explanations for why the paper is flawed. But Climate Feedback makes it as clear as possible, with plain-English explanations, and a “key takeaway.”

(Note: Climate Feedback is part of Science Feedback, a signatory to the IFCN’s Code of Principles. It also happens to be hiring a managing editor.)

  1. Sigh: “Trump’s Favorite Meme-Maker Adopted A Fake Name To Go On Trump’s Favorite TV Network,” BuzzFeed News reported this week.
  2. Spread the word: PolitiFact California is hiring a fall 2019 intern.
  3. The U.S. Census Bureau is developing a “ground game” to combat misinformation about the decennial count next year. Here’s Morning Consult’s report.
  4. First Draft interviewed the head of a Czech fact-checking project on the state of misinformation in the country. Elsewhere, The Japan Times profiled the work of FactCheck Initiative Japan ahead of an election next week.
  5. A new plan proposed by two Cabinet members in the United Kingdom would teach students how to spot misinformation.
  6. You might have noticed that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has had a slight tremor recently. The IFCN wrote this week that fact-checkers are closely monitoring conspiracies about it.
  7. The Onion produced a video about deepfakes and it’s hysterical. The satirists also published a fact check about President Donald Trump accusing U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) of supporting al-Qaida.
  8. Could this be a record? President Trump made three factual errors in the 19-word tweet, CNN reported.
  9. The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that a senator has filed a bill seeking to criminalize the creation and spread of “false information.”
  10. Last but certainly not least, Vice published a story about couples whose relationships were destroyed by the QAnon conspiracy theory.

That’s it for this week. Feel free to send feedback and suggestions to dfunke@poynter.org orsusan.benkelman@pressinstitute.org.

Daniel and Susan

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