Fake It To Make It (2017): Alternative Facts and Post-Truth Politics

The United States has the biggest media source of all time. Also because we are such a polarizing entity of a large melting pot rather than a homogenous whole, it is obvious that many opinions will differ. Many seek to capitalize on the difference. Fake It To Make It (2017) by Amanda Warner is a great example of how effective articles on social media are in interfering with finding truths in politics and the modern day news.

The game itself is online and is a super simplified simulation of creating fake news websites to spread misinformation. You are given many customization choices ranging from avatar, materialistic goal, logo, title of website, and more. The overarching goal is that you are making a fake news website with lots of articles and utilizing people of ranging backgrounds to share them. Each article can be marked by political parties or by “neutral” which means that it has nothing to do with the party. The people you choose to share these articles have two prominent features: believability and drama. These are important qualities for you to reach your money goal that is shown in the top right hand corner. However, hashtags and adwords can also contribute to the article’s growth. Tips and goals in the right hand side of the “homepage” of your fake news website leads you in the right direction of earning money while sharing articles. The appeal of having to reach a monetary and materialistic goal as a whole and having small incentivizing goals on the side only compelled me to keep playing the game until there were no more goals to fulfill. The website does not follow real time however it does pass relatively quickly. All the statistics of your website are shown in the top left hand corner along with the details. The homepage itself looks very much like any other website’s homepage which makes it very realistic despite being a simulation. Because this blurs the reality of being a false content creator and a gamer, I can see how the game can transcend the micro level involvement into a macro involvement in terms of affective involvement.

The presence of feedback when sharing an article also mimics real life commentary on news. Some will write, “That’s horrible!” “Who would do that?!” to “Great!” which is something we scroll through daily when browsing social media apps like Facebook. Many of the reactions are symbolic of how people respond emotionally towards clickbait articles. Moreover by using relevant tags and having a person who is of that political party or institution share the article further shuts people within their biases. Technically, they are also stuck in the online filter bubble in that they only see articles that they want to see, further polarizing political parties and other controversial topics.

The simulation made it that much easier to spread fake news which is exactly what the game alludes to. People are easy to believe articles online because it’s readily accessible and convenient. It’s much less work than walking out to the nearby coffeeshop or minimart to buy a physical copy of The New York Times. A simple click will do. Additionally, when a person is biased towards a political party, they are more likely to read about their own party than the opposing’s because it will generate feelings of pleasure. Therefore, true or not, fake news will always reign popular within their respective parties. The articles are nothing more than alternative facts yet people will believe what they want to believe and won’t accept criticisms. The public will be misinformed of what is really occurring in modern day news. I believe that people are also sharing articles for the sake of generating emotions rather than truth. People want to make a dichotomy between parties and they want more people on their side than the enemy’s. Though this may have not been the intention of the creators as in the Macedonian teenagers’ case, it has a significant impact on political parties especially in the U.S.

It also doesn’t help that Donald Trump constantly spreads disinformation everywhere. Many fact-checking websites (such as snopes.com) constantly refute Donald Trump’s statements but these crucial pieces of information are hidden under the numerous fake news. A lesson to learn from this game is to take everything with a grain of salt or to take some time out of your day to research more about a topic before sharing a post on social media. Fake It To Make It therefore is easily an educational game that is highly persuasive.

The game uses procedural rhetoric in the sense that it pulls the gamer into understanding the concept of fake news and the incentive of money that comes with it. Warner shows that even if the creator did not intend to divide people, little actions like creating a fake news website can easily wreck havoc everywhere. The audience must take caution in reading articles that come across their newsfeed. I believe the best step to take is to educate yourself in your own views but also the opposing party’s. Also, to continue checking multiple websites and escaping the filter bubble to widen one’s perspective. It would be great to find the original source of the published facts but that isn’t always the case. If people have time, I would suggest going out to buy the local newspaper or even watch a few broadcasts from popular news stations and not relying solely on the internet.

To be completely honest, when Donald Trump became president in 2016, I was quite shocked. I didn’t think that people believed the news that were posted about him but maybe they had ignored it out of bias. But I also realized that was because I was reading fake news too- fake news about Donald Trump not in the lead or not catching up to Hillary Clinton. I have yet a lot to learn about being careful with reading online articles, but this game was very effective in reminding us that anything can be made into alternative facts and it is up to us to discover what is real and what isn’t.

Works Cited:

Warner 2017, Fake It To Make It, video game, PC games, Amanda Warner.

Fake it or Make it

Mark Villari

Introduction

Similar to the games we played for the previous blog post, Fake it to Make it offered an interesting look into a political topic, being fake news in this case. Fake news is a phenomenon that came sweeping into American politics during the most recent election. From an American perspective, this type of news serves to be problematic, spreading fake information and reinforcing false ideologies. The impact it had was immense, as I learned from one of my classes this semester. The estimated influence of fake news made it possible for President Trump to win the election instead of Hillary. Therefore, its political significance is undeniable. However, many of the content creators were not intending to interrupt American politics, they were just trying to earn money. Fake it or Make it makes this financial incentive apparent, through procedural rhetoric. By placing the player in the perspective of a content creator, players are able to understand fake news from a new perspective.

To expand on this, the intent of the creators was not to highlight the content creators but to instead make it possible for people to identify fake news. By having players act in this position, it seems that they were hoping to showcase the issue of fake news instead of the incentive behind it. I gathered this from their explanation of the game. Regardless, the way in which I played the game was from a perspective that understood the intention as being to point out the reasons such news is created.

Gameplay

When you begin the game, you are able to select from one of four characters to “guide” you. They serve as your mentor in the game. After, you enter your name and then you are able to choose a financial goal. For the game I played, I chose the music equipment, as recommended. My financial goal, then, was $200. In order to reach set financial goal, players must create a fake news website, choosing a logo, a layout, and a means of income, which was ads by default for beginners. When you start the game, your mentor sets goals for you and introduces you to the different elements of the game. These elements involve copying articles, using catchy headlines, and then planting the articles on social media sites in the hopes they receive traffic. All the while, players manage their site while they monitor the amount of views, shares, and likes they receive. You can write your own articles, as well. More or less, players manage their website while trying to reach goals, with the ultimate aim being the financial goal set at the beginning. On the track to do so, players gain credibility for their fake news website and post more and more articles with different emotional responses from viewers.

Socio-cultural context

As discussed in the introduction, this game offers a look into the fake news industry, which played a significant role in the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. However, the game’s socio-cultural context can be understood as indicative of the socio-economic state those who create the content are in. As I learned in my Social Media class, much of the fake news that permeates through America is created by teens in the Balkans. These Macedonian teens have issues making money in the poor economy and are able to make a decent income by creating these sites, copying news, making a catchy headline, and having it spread online. They then collect the money for their own capital gain. Unfortunately, articles on Trump yielded the most profit for these young individuals, so they took the opportunity to capitalize on American politics.

Furthermore, fake news was created for the America as the profit from ads is the best in the American market. In addition to this, the political situation in America was easy to exploit. As the Democratic and Republican parties became increasingly divided, news for or against either candidate gained heavier and heavier traffic. These articles would be shared more, and consequently, viewed more. While the content creators made an income, false ideologies were being spread around America and people were not looking for the signs of falsity, as the concept caught America off-guard.

Altogether, the game highlighted the incentives behind creating fake news and the methods in which content creators go about making it in the context of American politics.

Effectiveness

I thought the game was very effective in displaying the innocence of creating fake news. Thrown amongst the political news were stories on health trends, on cute puppies, and so forth. This displayed the potential topics in which content can be created for financial gain. However, it was apparent that the American political topics gained the most views, shares, and likes. In doing so, the believability of fake news was shown in an attempt to express the need for readers to make sure the news they are reading is trustworthy and true. 

Sources

https://www.buzzfeed.com/craigsilverman/how-macedonia-became-a-global-hub-for-pro-trump-misinfo?utm_term=.yhXNMGqZV#.qyMr3y6Jj

https://firstdraftnews.com/fake-news-complicated/

Fake It To Make It (Ryan Najjar)

Fake it to Make It (Warner, 2017) is an interactive simulation game developed and designed by Amanda Warner, a creator of a wide range of online educational tools developed with the World Health Organization, The Union (an organization fighting tuberculosis and lung disease), Transparency International Norway, ACCION International, and more (Warner). This game is yet another addition to the wide range of educational tools and simulations she has worked on in the past, and this one focuses on the ideas and motivations behind fake news and it’s creators.

In the game, you have the choice between four characters, the main difference between which seems to be the physical appearance, since you can customize the name, and there isn’t really specific backstories associated with each person. When selecting the character before the beginning of the journey, one also has the option to pick a financial goal; these range from music equipment, to an apartment deposit, to a used car. Again, these are the same for all four of the characters. While it just makes sense for this game to have a sort of motivator to serve as a goal, so people don’t get uninterested while playing, I believe that the specific motivators were created specifically to appeal to those who might be unempathetic to creators of fake news; “They’re humans with needs, just like you,” this inclusion implies, “There’s a reason they’re doing this.”

From there, the game begins. From the outset, it lets you know that you’ll be targeting the US with your news sites, since “…views and clicks from people in this country are paid at a higher rate than in other countries,” hinting the user at the fact that the United States has a specific issue with this for a reason. It also lets you know that you’ll be making fake news because it “…takes less time to create, and it often spreads better than real news…” This seems to serve the same purpose as the previous statement, and also serves as a rationale for the character you are playing (they need money, after all)! From there, you enter the actual interface of the game, and are prompted to create your first site, which only needs to have a credibility rating of 30/100, a rating that can be achieved with a custom domain and an inexpensive site theme. You also have to select a form of monetization, whether it be ads, collecting user information, or malware, but ads are the only available option in the beginning. From there, you are told to copy articles from other sites, and select them based on general topics like immigration, crime, religion, politics, animals, and the like. Available articles are also rated based on their believability and drama, with scores being out of 20. From there, you are told to buy a social media profile with a certain amount of clout, and get them to share the articles into social media groups that indicate an interest in the article’s topics. The game prompts you to try an earn certain amounts of shares and revenue first, but then instructs you to invoke happiness with a certain article.

Through these promptings, the game (and Warner in turn) uses what Bogost refers to as procedural rhetoric to offer it’s opinions and perceptions of fake news (Bogost). In using these procedures, and through it’s use of specific trackers of time, exposure, and finances, the game also creates an immersive simulation, enforcing the narrative in turn.

After sharing the happy article, the player is informed that happy articles don’t get people riled up, and are therefore less popular; saying this, it then tells you to exploit fear, which is quickly found to be an easy way for an article to become widespread. Later on, you are told to write your own articles, with high ratings of drama and believability; you are told to accomplish this first by picking a general base topic (for example, “unverified report implicates the senate leader in sex scandal.”) Then by specifying it with different tropes that are engineered to invoke credibility and drama (things like quoting out-of-context information and asking readers to help expose the truth, respectively), and by giving it a title, one can create an article that is engineered to go viral and earn money. The game even indicates when a famous person shares your articles, and, if writing about immigration or specific groups of people, it even tells you when hate crimes against the people you wrote about increase in the United States.

The significance of the socio-cultural issue this game tackles cannot be ignored. Politifact, a prominent fact-checking site that worked overtime during the 2016 election, named the phenomenon it’s “Lie of the Year,” and harped on the prevalence of stories that made claims of pizza shop sex rings, implementation of Sharia law in the US, and mass racist chants at Donald Trump rallies (Politifact). It is these types of stories, and their prevalence, that led to an increased wave of confusion about the truth, with even 23% of Americans in one study saying they shared a fake news story, voluntarily or otherwise (Pew Research Center). Our current aforementioned president also routinely invoked the concept, although he tended to target it at CNN, and other news organizations that produced stories ill-fitting the Trump narrative (PoliticusUSA). However, even though it dominated a significant part of the political conversation in the previous year, a major study from Stanford University showed that it may have not necessarily swayed the election, although it definitely had a semi-significant footing through it’s prevalence in increasingly prevalent social media sites (Stanford).

Overall, I believe that the immersive nature of the game allowed it to address the issue in a fairly effective manner. By presenting the player with various tropes of fake news, it allows the player to understand patterns in these types of stories, and prepares them to encounter false information on social media in the future. Furthermore, placing the player in the perspective of the fake news creator also serves the purpose of inducing empathy for the creators of these works, although it could have done this in a more effective manner. For instance, all of the characters had the same exact three goals, which depersonalizes the experience quite a bit. Also, the fact they had no set name, or any identity beyond a face, enforced this depersonalization. This made me, and perhaps some others, feel slightly disconnected from the experience of this character. This is a minor problem, however, and the game as a whole functions smoothly, and serves its purpose quite well.

 

Works Cited:

Barthel, Michael, Amy Mitchell, and Jesse Holcomb. “Many Americans Believe Fake News Is Sowing Confusion.” Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project. The Pew Charitable Trusts, 15 Dec. 2016. Web. 09 May 2017.

Bogost, Ian. Persuasive Games. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2010. Print.

Crawford, Krysten. “Stanford Study Examines Fake News and the 2016 Presidential Election.” Stanford News. Stanford University, 19 Jan. 2017. Web. 09 May 2017.

Haraldsson, Hrafnkell. “Trump Reacts to Terrible Poll Results by Calling CNN ‘Fake News’.” Politicus USA. Politicus USA, 20 Mar. 2017. Web. 09 May 2017.

Holan, Angie Drobnic. “PolitiFact’s 2016 Lie of the Year: Fake News.” PolitiFact. Tampa Bay Times, 13 Dec. 2016. Web. 09 May 2017.

Warner, Amanda. “Portfolio.” Amanda Warner. Amanda Warner, n.d. Web. 09 May 2017.

You Have to Fake it to Make it (Alex Wolmart)

Fake news is one of the most controversial and polarizing issues flooding not only the United States, but the deceptive internet phenomenon has taken an international online presence. But, of course, the United States is the most frequently sited source of fake news and the controversy that generates around it. At the very start of the game, in what can be equated to as the preface or the introduction of the game, after selecting your avatar, his/her name, and the monetary goal (band equipment, car, etc.) the very first sentence of the second paragraph in this “preface” reads, “Your sites are going to be targeting people in the United States. Why? Well, because views and clicks from people in this country are paid at a higher rate than in other countries. You might not care about American politics, but you can still use its drama to profit!” (Fake it to Make it, 2017). Even fake news creators from other parts of the world thrive off the American mentality and vulnerability to the issue. They use the clear-cut well defined division between the two political parties to generate hate and fear.

Fake it to Make it, from the gameplay, to the “about screen,” even to the title of the game, all aspects of this deeply unique and interesting experience greatly reflects the entire concept of fake news in society. The first part of the gameplay to discuss is the selection/customization process that takes place when beginning your fake news organization. Everything, from the name and logo of the site to the domain, theme, and monetization is created, carefully and systematically by you, the gamer. This is a simulated process of what real fake news sites creators do. They carefully, and creatively at times, select and use every aspect of this customization to radiate both more credibility and more drama – two things in the game that drive the success of your articles and ultimately your site. The game rates the success, or potential success, of the articles your using on two scores out of twenty, credibility and drama.

After selecting your choice of avatar, you select what it is that your attempting to purchase – in a sense the goal of your fake news site – and the player can choose from three different purchases, equipment for your band, an apartment, and a car. In a sense this choice in the beginning phase of the game is representative of one of the many motives – probably the most major one as well – that fake news creators have when creating their content, money. Arguably so, the two major points of motivation for fake news site creators are money and fame. Money motivates the majority of the world and the people within it. It drives people to do ridiculous and sometimes unspeakable things that may compromise their ethics and morals. What makes these fake news sites and the creators of them any different? That is, in fact, the primary goal in Fake it to Make it. Every time you receive a new “goal” in the checklist on the left hand side of the screen and those sets of instructions, it claims how the main objective of these “goals” is getting clicks that inevitably get money to hopefully buy that virtual band equipment, apartment, or car. In the very first sentence of the introduction/preface – mentioned earlier – it states, “You will be making money by creating news sites and profiting when people view and click on ads on your site. It’s pretty easy as long as you can generate enough traffic,” (Fake it to Make it, 2017). The very first thing the gamer reads as instructions are how you need to make money to win.

The money and fame go hand in hand. They are, in a sense, dependent on one another as two parts to a fake news creator’s profile. Fame means followers, followers means more people coming to their site, therefore more people clicking on advertisements and generating money. While these site creators may not be looking for the absurd fame that A-list celebrities receive – unrealistic for many modern news establishments – what they are indeed looking for is recognition. These creators may be very satisfied with thousands of dollars but they may be just as satisfied with a million and a half followers on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Followers are money to these creators, it’s how they receive all the traffic to their site and ultimately all their revenue, through the click-bait advertisements they display. These fake news creators thrive off of controversy, fear, and anger. They generate more of this when more people decide to share, like, and comment on the video by contributing to the conversation. Ultimately, this a large factor behind how these “bot farms” come into play. The bot farms – of which have garnered greater popularity due to their involvement and connection with Russia and the 2016 U.S Presidential Election – are a bunch of people hired to sit on computers, generate fake Facebook profiles, and “contribute to the conversation” by either playing devil’s advocate or adding on to the argument being made on the post by the original fake news source. They generate this controversy, frustration, and fear that has been driving the mainstream media and the opinion of so many people not only in American society, but in countries all over the world. Again, these fake news site creators prosper and feed off of these emotions of dread and animosity. After beginning the game and creating all the specific details to your fake site, you receive goals throughout that keep you going on a set path. You can’t move on to the next goal until you’ve completed the one the game has already assigned. After completing the first four goals, the gamer receives two goals one after another, “Plant an article that triggers fear,” and, “Plant an article that triggers happiness.” Every time, of course, the articles that trigger fear receives multiple times more attention, emotional response, and therefore money than the articles that trigger happiness. It’s upsetting when thought about but it’s truly how fake news in the real world functions, anger and fear generates more response, clicks, and money than happiness and positive emotions.

Fake it to Make it is a socially conscious game that satirically uses the fake news problem in society today to inadvertently explain how we can not only recognize fake news, but also prevent it from becoming something that we are exposed to. Fake news is not very influential in gaming media or the gaming community as it plays a much larger role in politics more than any other field. It has been, and can be, said that fake news was a primary force behind the victory of Donald Trump. Stories such as the radical white-supremacist group the Klu Klux Klan supporting Hillary Clinton or the Pope endorsing Donald Trump were some of the most popular stories of election season and that doesn’t even scratch the surface. Fake news has more of an impact on our society than many care to admit, and the game Fake it to Make it greatly emphasizes and shows the workings of such an intricate issue.

Fake It Till You Make It

The game Fake it Till you Make it is a simulation-style, social impact game created by Amanda Warner. In the beginning of the game, you are presented with four available avatars to choose from. After stating your name, you must choose one of three things to save up for, and later purchase. You can either purchase music equipment ($200), a deposit for your first apartment ($400), or a used car ($1000). After making a selection, you find out that you are to make money by creating a fake news website. The money comes from people clicking and viewing the ads on your page. Your job is to generate enough traffic on your website to reach your money goal. According to the website, this should be easy, because “you aren’t as constrained by facts.” Throughout the game, you are presented with some goals to guide you in the right direction. Goals include making a site, adding articles, getting one of your articles to go viral, and then eventually creating multiple websites. In terms of the articles you are putting on your website, you can either create them or copy them. Every article comes with a believability and a drama rating. They also contain tags that are associated with either the orange or the purple political parties. The player has the option to make articles very dramatic, very serious and believable, or preferably, both. Only when articles have high ratings in both believability and drama can they become viral. The more attention and traffic your article generates, the more you earn.

Amanda Warner created the game so that players “leave with a better understanding of how misinformation is created, spread, and emotionally targeted so that they are more skeptical of information that they encounter in the future.” In today’s world, we spend so much time looking at computer screens. We are constantly bombarded with news and articles, but we don’t know what’s real and what’s not. For us, seeing an article on different forums, or websites gives it a sense of legitimacy or credibility. This trust is misplaced. In the game, you can literally copy fake news from other sites and publish them on your own website. The same fake news, in different forums.

Amanda goes on to say that the game is based on real live events. Particularly the events regarding the Macedonian teenagers who made a profit by spreading fake news regarding the presidential election in 2016. One teenager, Dimitri (did not give permission to use his real name) made over sixty thousand dollars in less than six months. He posted articles on Facebook wanting to make them go viral. According to him, his two most famous headlines read, “JUST IN: Obama Illegally Transferred DOJ Money to Clinton Campaign!” and “BREAKING: Obama Confirms Refusal To Leave White House, He Will Stay In Power!” Upon reading the headline, one can easily point out the fallacies in such headlines, but that is not what matters to people like Dimitri. Seeing such headlines is sure to draw your attention, and make you want to read it. That’s what they want. They want the click-through so that they could make money off the ads.

Although Warner’s goal for the game was to evoke fear or some type of skepticism in its player, and the end of the day, this is an educational game. Upon completion, which in this game, comes in the form of reaching a money goal, the player leaves with a good understanding of how the process works. From using article tags to cater your articles to specific types of people, to using trending topics to make articles go viral, playing the game gave me a better idea on how to make money with the publishing of fake news. Warner stated that this may be an unexpected effect of the game. Instead of making players skeptical on news articles we see, it might have taught, and inspired players to try to make money by playing Fake It Till You Make It in real life.

It is rather interesting how much the internet facilitates the process of publishing on fake news. This is a process that would be near impossible a few decades ago. There are many reasons why. First, spreading that much information to that much people would have been near impossible without spending an insane amount of money. Today, one can simply use WordPress to create an article or a website and then use social media to publish it, both which are basically free. Second, by using the internet and social media, you already have an audience that, if you play your cards right, is willing to listen. Also, because this audience is so broad, and because you can have some sort of anonymity, reputations are more expendable. The last reason deals with legality. Because spreading new would have been so expensive, and inefficient without the internet, not a lot of publishers could do it. The few that did have the resources usually followed the law because they knew that spreading fake news would probably result in a lawsuit.

After playing the game, I was left wondering how I was personally affected by fake news. As someone who spends hours on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms every day, I know that I am exposed to fake news. But how often? How often do people get exposed to fake news? Well, the spread of fake news saw a drastic increase in 2016, due to the presidential election. People started using fake news to bend the truth for political gain. Small groups of people would create hyperbolic articles regarding the election to evoke emotion. A kind of emotion that would drive action. The 2016 election resulted in such a spike of fake news in large part because of how dynamic a character Donald Trump is. When Donald Trump, the person who would go on to become the president of the United States suggests that Obama was not born in the United States, or that Climate change is a hoax, you, as a news reader, become more receptive to truth distortion or hyperbole because with Donald Trump’s character, you simply don’t know what to expect.

Overall, I had a great time playing the game, and I’m now much more skeptical of all the information I encounter.

Cites:

  1. Carson, James. “What is fake news? Its origins and how it grew in 2016.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 08 Feb. 2017. Web. 09 May 2017.
  2. Smith, Alexander, and Vladimir Banic. “Fake News: How a Partying Macedonian Teen Earns Thousands Publishing Lies.” NBCNews.com. NBCUniversal News Group, 09 Dec. 2016. Web. 09 May 2017.
  3. Warner, Amanda. “Fake It Till You Make It .” Amanda Warner. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 May 2017.
  4. Silverman, Craig. “Fake News Expert On How False Stories Spread And Why People Believe Them.” NPR. NPR, 14 Dec. 2016. Web. 09 May 2017.
  5. Akpan, Nsikan. “The very real consequences of fake news stories and why your brain can’t ignore them.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, 5 Dec. 2016. Web. 09 May 2017.

 

Fake it to Make it

I decided to pick the game Fake it to Make it. First, you’re greeted with some upbeat, casual music. You’re not really given any context to what the game is about. You just pick one of four characters who you want to “guide” you through the game. I ended up picking the first girl. Each character looks different, with one being white and the rest of them being people of color. Since I don’t have any context of what the game is about, I’m assuming that the characters’ looks must have something to do with the game. Then, you enter your first name. You then are directed to a “what do you want to purchase” section. You’re given a hint that it’s easier to meet a smaller financial goal and that you can (should) try to buy the apartment or car (bigger purchases) later. Because of this tip, I decided to buy the music equipment for my band, which was $200, compared to the $400 for the first apartment and the $1000 for the car.

Then you begin the game and try to make money to reach your goal. The way you make money is by creating news sites. Whenever people click on ads on your site, you make money. Basically, as long as you get enough traffic on your site, then you’ll be fine and will continue to make profit. You’re then given some context into what kinds of advertisements you provide. The ads are targeted at Americans because you get more money from Americans clicking on the ads than when people from other countries click on the ads. This is about fake news and therefore, the news doesn’t have to be particularly true. This is because fake news “takes less time to create” and “spreads better” than real news does since you don’t have to deal with fact checking and what not. This also makes sense because with fake news, you can be as dramatic as you want.

The first thing you have to do is create your site and make sure that it has a credibility rating of at least 30. You can enter a site name or you can generate a random site name. I picked the random name generator, so my website is now called QED Weekly. You then pick a logo, a domain, a theme, a monetization, and then you review and submit it. I decided to add a custom domain and hosting because I think it adds a lot of credibility (+20) and honestly, $10 per year and $10 per month isn’t too bad. I picked the OnlineVoice theme which added a +10 credibility for $20. After this, I had $10 remaining and a score of 30 out of 100 for credibility.

Next, you have to add articles. The advice given is to “copy from other sites” which I found interesting, since that is a perfect example of how fake news circulates. One article will pop up with a very minimal amount of truth attached to it, and then other fake news sites will take that article and change it just enough to be counted as a different article, and then the article continues to circulate within the media. The articles all have a believability score as well as a drama score. Obviously, I tried to find an article with both high believability (so people wouldn’t think it was fake news) as well as high drama (so people would share it). I decided to pick one with a believability score of 15/20 and a drama score of 16/20. I then picked one with a believability score of 15/20 and a drama score of 15/20. You then have to plant this article to make sure it has at least 100 shares. After picking the articles, you pick a user based on the political affiliation of the article and then a group to start sharing the article in. Once you plant the article, you can see how the article is doing in terms of being shared. If the post is doing well, you see the number of shares and views continuously increasing and you also see comments from some of the viewers. For me, this article ended up doing pretty well which means I picked a good article and also put that article in the right group. The people seeing the article were “angered” and “disgusted.”

The next goal was to plant an article that triggers happiness. I picked an article about cute children’s quotes which had a believability of 15/20 and a drama score of 10/20. At first, I picked the same political guy and put it in a group that was about cute animals, despite that my article was about children’s quotes. The article didn’t do well and no one paid attention to it. I then created a user and made her join popular groups specifically about parenting, and the article did much better when it circulated through those groups. The next goal was to inspire fear in people, so I made sure to pick an article about how there’s something we do that damages our health “every day.”

Then, I had to write my own article and make sure it had a drama score of 20. You pick one topic out of the ones given to you. You don’t actually write the article, but rather pick different elements that either add to the drama or the believability of the article. Then, you again have to assign the article to a user who belongs to a certain group. The article was believed by some, but then there were some people who made the comment “how stupid do they think we are?” Nonetheless, as long as the article continues to be circulated, I did my job correctly.

Basically, there were many goals given to you to help you reach the main goal of having a credibility score of 100 and also making however much money you intended to make. Sometimes you’re asked to write and plant an article that triggers certain emotions, such as fear, happiness, sadness, etc. Other times, you’re asked to write more specific things such as writing about how taxpayer money is being wasted by the current president. One obstacle I encountered while playing the game was running out of money. Sometimes I would forget that the longer I took to write an article, the more expensive it would be because I still had to pay to run the website. Because of this, I ran out of money a few times and had to be bailed out by the character guide I chose. The game also gave me some different insight into making money off of these advertisements. Even when my article was doing well, I was barely making any money off of it. Any time one of my articles didn’t do well, I lost so much money that I would again have to be bailed out by my guide. By the time I was finished playing the game, I was nowhere near reaching my monetary goal and was just very indebted to my guide.

I found this game to be quite interesting as a whole. Firstly, I found this game to be especially relevant right now. There are so many people who claim that fake news sincerely affected the results of America’s presidential election. Fake news has never been more influential and more talked about than it is right now. Playing this game and actually creating the fake news was both entertaining and interesting for me. It was strange to actually think that the two main components are believability and drama, because sometimes, you could post a really ridiculous article (low believability) but it will still do fairly well if it has a high drama score. This is because apparently, no matter how ridiculous an article might seem to you, there will always be at least some people who believe it, and even more people who will share it. All it takes for fake news to spread is people talking about it and clicking a simple button on facebook or whatever other social media the news is spread on. This changed my perspective of fake news by making me understand what actually goes into these websites. This game made me feel like the people making the news are specifically making it so that they can make money –not because they are trying to spew made up facts to confuse people. Truthfully, it made me hate fake news more than I did before, but I also thought of it humorously because it showed people believing the most unbelievable of articles.

Fake It to Make It

“Fake It to Make It”, created by Amanda Warner, is an educational game that simulates the impact of fake news.  The player creates a hypothetical news outlet, copies or writes articles from a pre-determined set of options, and plants the articles in various social media groups.  The articles the player can copy come with a believability rating, a drama rating, and tags associating them with the orange political party, the purple party, or neutral.  The articles generate income based on their popularity and the emotional response they illicit.  The player is faced with goals such as “plant an article that earns more than ten dollars”, “make an article that triggers fear”, or “write an article with a drama value of more than 20”. The more interest an article generates, the more money it earns.  The player attempts to reach a profit goal, enough to either buy music equipment, place a deposit for an apartment, or buy a used car. 

The game illustrates how many fake new article are literally copied from other fake news cites for their sensationalism.  Articles that appear in multiple places gain a false sense of legitimacy, simply because it exists in multiple places does not mean the information is correct.  If they aren’t directly plagiarized, they often cite other fake news sources, falsely reference reputable sources, fabricate “relevant” statistics, or use a convincing photo from a different event as evidence. For example, according to The Guardian, an article from alternativemediasyndicate.com reported that police at the Standing Rock protests burned down the camps of indigenous people fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. However, the image used was from “a 2007 HBO film”, indicating that the article was fake.  However, the misuse of the image didn’t stop Facebook users from sharing the article over 200,000 times (The Guardian).  This particular incident highlights how articles gain momentum. With each share the new reaches a new audience, seemingly gaining reputability along the way.

In the context of the game, politically charged articles targeted towards the orange party generated a greater amount of interest than articles of the same nature targeted towards purple party members.  Therefore, the game illustrates how a certain type of reader—politically interested, gullible, and far to one side of the political spectrum—tends to be more active in the distribution of sensational media.  The Guardian reports that “pro-Trump false stories were much more widespread than pro-Clinton ones. Some of the most high-profile examples, such as the conspiracy theory that Clinton was tied to a child sex ring, fed rightwing narratives.” (The Guardian) However, the author notes that there has been an uptick in the popularity of fake news targeted towards more liberal audiences (The Guardian). Levin says, “On the left, there are numerous styles of misinformation that appear to be gaining traction. In addition to blatantly fabricated stories, there have been increasing concerns about articles featuring deceitful and hyperbolic headlines, viral memes that have a very tenuous connection to the truth and poorly sourced articles that use inaccurate visuals to draw readers.” This shift indicates that the subject of fake news may have little to do with the content itself, but features whatever will garner the most interest from internet users.  The content simply shifts with public interest.

Fake news content in the United States is also frequently coming from overseas. Buzzfeed news reports that teenagers in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have created over one hundred pro-trump websites featuring entirely plagiarized or falsified content with titles like “Your Prayers Have Been Anwered”, or “This is the news of the millennium!” (Buzzfeed).  People in their teens to early twneties, particularly in the Macedonian town on Veles, are planting content designed to generate social media attention, and watching as “money [begins] trickling into [a] Google AdSense account” (Buzzfeed).  To directly quote Buzzfeed, The young Macedonians who run these sites say they don’t care about Donald Trump. They are responding to straightforward economic incentives: As Facebook regularly reveals in earnings reports, a US Facebook user is worth about four times a user outside the US. The fraction-of-a-penny-per-click of US display advertising — a declining market for American publishers — goes a long way in Veles.” (Buzzfeed).  Essentially, people who don’t care about the content they release are swaying American media discussions and controlling which topics people are most frequently exposed to.  Facebook is the most effective platform, and is based on a system of momentum.  Posts that generate public interest will appear more prominently, which gives them the opportunity to generate even more interest in a sort of positive feedback loop.  Content that is less sensational—and likely more reliable—will never have the opportunity to surpass the fake news.  This system, riddled with false content from people who chose it specifically for its capability to generate fear, is dangerous at best.  Not only does it reaffirm people’s preexisting biases, it can lead to mass hysteria and widespread paranoia.  In short, the small economic gain of teenagers far away is sweeping the American media.

Also, in the information section the game’s creator discusses the ethics of “Fake It to Make It”.  Hypothetically, the game could teach people how to create fake news. It could also inspire people to create fake news cites, or make people aware that they could make money this way.  Warner explains that “the process or creating fake news is already well documented online…However, I acknowledge that there is a difference between information and inspiration. It’s possible that this game could inspire someone to make fake news, but I’m willing to take the risk, because I think the potential for positive change in players is worth it”.  Basically, if someone wants to create fake news the resources are already out there.  The academic value of “Fake It to Make It” outweighs the potential danger of inspiring more copycat news sources. 

Basically, click bait is everywhere.  Internet users can protect themselves from falling into the trap of fake news by double checking their sources with sites like Snopes, Politifact, and FactCheck.org (Warner).  Also, it’s advisable to cross reference information.  If news is legitimate, readers should be able to find the same information in multiple reputable sources online. 

Works Cited

Alexander, Craig Silverman Lawrence. “How Teens In The Balkans Are Duping Trump Supporters With Fake News.” BuzzFeed. Buzzfeed News, 4 Nov. 2016. Web. 08 May 2017.

Warner 2017, Fake It To Make It, video game, PC games, Amanda Warner.

Levin, Sam. “Fake News for Liberals: Misinformation Starts to Lean Left under Trump.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 06 Feb. 2017. Web. 08 May 2017.