Absolutely (NOT) Fake News!

We live in a strange time when the term Fake News is heard multiple times a day if you consume any sort of media regularly—TV, internet, magazines, etc. Our Dear Leader uses the term often, especially in his voluminous tweets. So how are we to figure out what’s real and what’s fake when it comes to news? Here is one fun tool that may help shed some light on the topic. Designed to foster certain tendencies in its users, the game Factitious is free on the web. The makers of the game, Game Lab at American University in Washington D.C. and JoLT, another cooperative of various departments at American University, hope to help raise player’s IQ when it comes to spotting the differences between fake and real news.

The game is easy to play. You log on and see this screen:

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You can either go right into the game via quick start or you can register via full start and enter your name, age, gender, educational level and email address to keep track of your progress. Either route you choose the game begins with this screen:

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You are shown a full, brief article that actually appeared somewhere on the web and asked to discern whether or not it is fake news. If you think it is fake, you either swipe left or check the red x. If you think it’s true, swipe right or click the green check mark. Pretty easy, right? Well, not so fast. The article in the second picture above sounds sensational, so it has to be fake right? How can you be sure? It just sounds implausible, right—eating brains has a health benefit?

As it turns out, there are clues, such as are there verifiable details in the story? Are there individuals mentioned by name that can easily corroborate the story? Is the story verified by other outlets running the same or similar stories? These are all good clues that a story is genuine. What are some earmarks of fake news? There are often few to no details for a fake news stories: anonymous sources make spurious claims, there are vague mentions of locations and many other specific details are lacking specifics. Additionally, many fake news stories fail to link to other, known reputable sites, such as major news networks or popular, widely read blogs, and many times the journalists are not mentioned by name.

As you go through the game you are given the opportunity to test how well you do or do not use these tools to make discerning choices in your reading material.  There are three rounds, and you’re given a score at the end of each round:

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By the time you finish you are given a final score and given some mild praise (note the confetti):

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This game is a good way to begin assuring yourself and others that you get your news from reputable sites and are not taken in by deceivers. The game can be tricky, with some outlandish stories proving true and other, more innocuous appearing stories exposed as fake. The real world will often present the same difficulties, so we have to do our best to help decide for ourselves, and others, what sources we can trust and what sources we cannot.

One problem with this site is that there aren’t enough stories loaded onto the site to play more than a few rounds before you start to see stories repeated. I have made a request to see if there is a planned upgrade, but as of this writing I have not heard back. I will update if this status changes.