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.

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