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The Online Game Which Helps You Get Better At Creating Fake News

Cheat, exploit emotions and forget your morals to win at GetBadNews.

There’s enough fake news around us today. There’s enough of “fake news”, the phrase, being thrown around us today. Many of us understand the agenda and strategising that goes behind it, but many of us don’t. In the last couple of years, the the phenomenon of fake news has only increased with increased political efforts at polarisation in the US, in India and in various other parts of the world. So how does one differentiate between accurate information and fake news? Do you ever wonder how easy or difficult it is to have people “following” your “fake” agenda? Well, there’s a game for it now.

Designed by Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab, GetBadNews is a game that exploits the spirit of competitiveness and evokes the urge to be popular on social media. In this game, the player is the antagonist whose goal is to become a fake news expert.

To play the game, you have to train your mind to cheat, exploit emotions, take revenge, dramatise events, attract attention, kill morality and create disinformation. If you do this successfully, you win a total of six badges of ‘dishonour’ and a high number of followers on a simulated Twitter-like platform.

This web-based interactive game encourages you to bring out the ‘tweet-smart entrepreneur’ in you, one who must put aside their morals and ethics to become a social media news influencer. And to help you stay on track — of dishonesty — is a virtual assistant who guides you, questions you and often consults you to make the “right decision”. This assistant represents your evil side — the inner voice or the other half of your conscience — that is often on a leash (or, depending on which voice is louder in your head, on the loose).

If you listen to the virtuous voice for more than a few times, it’s game over for you. With a virtuous voice, your chances of being heard on social media are done and dusted. In this age and time of digital communication, the evil voice sounds so much more enticing. It tells you to cheat, win and exploit the audience to increase your followers. 

As the game progresses, every decision you make is tested. If your decision is inclined towards the truth, you are looked upon as weak and advised to make more aggressive decisions that would gain you followers but not necessarily authenticity. You are taught to be revengeful and conspire against your competitors. You are encouraged to troll and post inflammatory information to lure your followers into combative arguments and fights, which in turn gets you more eyes. It forces you to polarise the online community and congratulates you for discrediting genuine stories, people or organisations. It teaches you to be irresponsible and entertain yourself at the cost of others. It also encourages you to be a conman or impersonate somebody’s identity to earn “credibility”.

fake newsAnd once you make the ‘right’ choices, you win the badges of Trolling, Discredit, Conspiracy, Impersonation, Emotion and Polarization, eventually certifying you as a ‘Fake News Expert’.

I played the game twice. In my first attempt, I lost within three minutes, earning just one badge and 12 followers. When I saw my competitors, I barely had anyone reading the authentic information I wanted to share. It made me reflect on my actual Twitter and feel amused. There have been so many times when I thought I had shared an informative tweet, but it got only a couple of retweets. On the other hand, my political opinions and rare rants on Twitter often go viral.

In my second attempt at the game, I put my virtuous voice on mute and my evil voice on loud. Within 20 minutes, I had found 5,666 loyal followers and earned the six badges of dishonour. However, in these 20 minutes, my conscience was tested multiple times and I had to force myself to make a decision against truth, morality and empathy to win the game. And I did. But the damage I had caused, and how much, was not assessed.

For me, the goal was to win a one-time virtual game. For thousands, fake news is the pragmatic approach towards winning the real-world information scenario with a business model in an online and highly connected space.

Osama Manzar is founder-director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and chair of Manthan and mBillionth awards. He tweets @osamamanzar

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