A new online game is helping players identify fake news by giving them the power to subvert a small-town democracy with misinformation.

 

 

In an effort to tackle misinformation online, psychologists have turned to online games. They hope such games will serve as a “vaccine” against common forms of deception before people get “infected.” A study of players has brought with it evidence that at least one of these games can help, although whether the effect lasts is uncertain.

The game, Harmony Square, puts the user in the position of “Chief Disinformation Officer” who is assigned to undermine local elections in a small American town of the same name. Harmony Square has a history of fair yet closely contested elections conducted in a manner befitting a civics lesson, until the player rolls in and attempts to create chaos by spreading conspiracy theories and setting the population against one another.

Encouraging players to indulge in their inner troll and undermine democracy might seem like a counterintuitive measure, though the designers believe any such effects will be more than offset by a newly informed electorate, wise to the tricks of election saboteurs after enacting such tactics themselves in-game.

It is important to examine whether Harmony Square succeeds in “pre-bunking” against those perpetrating misinformation schemes in reality. 

“Trying to debunk misinformation after it has spread is like shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted. By pre-bunking, we aim to stop the spread of fake news in the first place,” said Dr Sander van der Linden, from the Cambridge Social Decision-Making lab (CISA), in a statement.

In the Harvard Misinformation Review journal, van der Linden and Jon Roozenbeek describe having half a sample of 681 people play Harmony Square while the other half play Tetris prior to exposing both sets to an array of media designed to mislead or encourage conflict.

The Harmony Square players were more confident in their capability in spotting manipulative media, and it seems that confidence had some bases. The authors showed the participants their sample eight deceptive posts they had found on social media and eight more of their own creation. Harmony Square experts were 16 percent less likely to be fooled by either category and 11 percent less likely to use social media to pass them on. The latter is particularly important because it raises the possibility of a sort of herd immunity.

Furthermore, the effects were approximately even across the political spectrum, potentially avoiding turning Harmony Square into a partisan issue. An impressive outcome all-around for a game that can be completed in 10 minutes. However, the study wasn’t able to address the question of how long any benefits might last.

 

The Harmony Square players were more confident in their capability in spotting manipulative media, and it seems that confidence had some bases. The authors showed the participants their sample eight deceptive posts they had found on social media and eight more of their own creation.

 

In an effort to tackle misinformation online, psychologists have turned to online games. They hope such games will serve as a “vaccine” against common forms of deception before people get “infected.” A study of players has brought with it evidence that at least one of these games can help, although whether the effect lasts is uncertain.

The game, Harmony Square, puts the user in the position of “Chief Disinformation Officer” who is assigned to undermine local elections in a small American town of the same name. Harmony Square has a history of fair yet closely contested elections conducted in a manner befitting a civics lesson, until the player rolls in and attempts to create chaos by spreading conspiracy theories and setting the population against one another.

Encouraging players to indulge in their inner troll and undermine democracy might seem like a counterintuitive measure, though the designers believe any such effects will be more than offset by a newly informed electorate, wise to the tricks of election saboteurs after enacting such tactics themselves in-game.

It is important to examine whether Harmony Square succeeds in “pre-bunking” against those perpetrating misinformation schemes in reality. 

“Trying to debunk misinformation after it has spread is like shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted. By pre-bunking, we aim to stop the spread of fake news in the first place,” said Dr Sander van der Linden, from the Cambridge Social Decision-Making lab (CISA), in a statement.

In the Harvard Misinformation Review journal, van der Linden and Jon Roozenbeek describe having half a sample of 681 people play Harmony Square while the other half play Tetris prior to exposing both sets to an array of media designed to mislead or encourage conflict.

The Harmony Square players were more confident in their capability in spotting manipulative media, and it seems that confidence had some bases. The authors showed the participants their sample eight deceptive posts they had found on social media and eight more of their own creation. Harmony Square experts were 16 percent less likely to be fooled by either category and 11 percent less likely to use social media to pass them on. The latter is particularly important because it raises the possibility of a sort of herd immunity.

Furthermore, the effects were approximately even across the political spectrum, potentially avoiding turning Harmony Square into a partisan issue. An impressive outcome all-around for a game that can be completed in 10 minutes. However, the study wasn’t able to address the question of how long any benefits might last.

 

 

 

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