Evaluating Misinformation Education Tools

In today’s age of information on demand, learning through books or other written sources may not be the best option for everyone. The world may be too fast-paced for someone to dedicate much time to dense text and they may be better suited to learn in a fun, interactive manner. The games presented in this module offer an exciting way for users to learn more about how easily misinformation spreads.

Breaking Harmony Square
The first game I played was Breaking Harmony Square. In this game, the fictional neighborhood of Harmony Square is deeply invested in democracy. The player is hired as the Chief Disinformation Officer (CDO) and over the course of four levels, they are tasked with disrupting the peace and democracy of the neighborhood by spreading false information. 

This game was a very easy and hands-on way to learn about how quickly and easily misinformation spreads. By being the ones who are in charge of creating and spreading disinformation, users are given different options for false stories to spread and different ways in which to spread them. The game tracked the spread of misinformation by keeping count of how many likes the CDO earned on their posts overall.

Something that stuck out to me in this game is that while headlines should appear at least somewhat credible to get the most attention, many are willing to look past them if they feel emotionally connected to or charged by a story. Sensitive headlines made viewers more likely to read and share. Furthermore, sharing fake news articles online and engaging in discourse with others is an effective tactic to make people stand more firmly on one side of the proverbial fence or the other. If someone feels that they are being attacked for their opinion, they will likely hold that opinion more firmly. On the other hand, trolling can create a group mentality and make some feel that they should join in at the moment. Through this kind of mob mentality, misinformation can spread even quicker and even aim to discredit trustworthy news sources.

Fake It To Make It

The second game I played was Fake It To Make It, which was similar to Harmony Square, however, this game focused more on the monetary element of spreading false information. Many fake news outlets make money off of misleading people to get their audience to click on their page and view stories with advertisements. They also pay to have their website promoted through various instruments, such as bots. This game kept track of how much revenue was being built off of the spread of misinformation and gave hints as to which methods were most effective. Players must reach certain goals, such as reaching a certain number in profit, eliciting certain emotions from readers, or distributing articles to certain political or social groups that will generate interest.

Similarly to Harmony Square, appealing to emotion seemed to be a very easy way to promote a false news story. Additionally, headlines needed to be at least somewhat believable, but the use of inflammatory language and clickbait also worked well. If a headline caused readers to panic about an impending threat, they were more likely to share the story without fact-checking first just in case the story was true. It is believed that by doing so, the risk of sharing a potentially false story is much less damaging than the risk of not sharing a true story and protecting others. 

Overall, I feel that both games did an effective job of informing players about the risks of spreading misinformation and how to look out for it. Both games would be great tools to use in high school and middle school media literacy classes in order to teach the coming generations about these topics and protect them for the future. 

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