This fake-news video game turned me into a monster -- sad!
The online game Bad News lets you build your own fake-news empire. Who knew selling your social media soul could be so grotesquely fulfilling?
Morgan LittleSenior Director, Audience
Morgan leads the teams managing CNET's presence and content across social media, news platforms and more after stints in the marketing world and LA Times. Eventually his last byline on the site will be about something other than Godzilla
Fake news is still with us in 2018, manipulating our social feeds and minds with blatant appeals to partisanship and emotion. The media hasn't solved it. Facebook and Twitter haven't eliminated it. The government hasn't fixed it.
Bad News is a browser-based game built to "vaccinate" people against disinformation on social media by placing them in the driver's seat of its distribution. Built by a team of researchers, journalists and academics, the game tasks you with building a fake news empire while avoiding those pesky people complaining about "facts" and "truth."
As a member of CNET's social team, I spend *a lot* of time on social media. Despite what some commenters may think, CNET isn't involved in some vast scheme to manipulate the masses. But that doesn't mean the idea isn't tempting in the same way it's tempting to play an evil character in a role-playing game.
Diving into Bad News, my goal was simple. Win, by whatever means necessary. I've seen plenty of Alex Jones nonsense. I used to read Antiviral. I've spent more than 20 minutes on the internet. If anything, I should be a top draft pick for Team Fake News. But at least in the world of Bad News, keeping your credibility while ruining society is a fine needle to thread.
It all started off easy enough. I impersonated President Trump and tweeted about nuclear war, but that's child's play. So I took it to the next step. So long CNET, hello HONEST TRUTH ONLINE ™. As editor-in-chief, I had to pick the perfect slogan: "Bursting the mainstream media bubble."
With 124 followers, I was ready to take on the world. It was only once I'd opted to pick emotional content wrapped around "exploitable news headlines" that things went from dumb fun to emotional exhaustion.
I posted memes about imaginary scientists profiting from global warming. Memes about dogs that had been kicked. And despite the game's warning that posting fake news had risks, I opted to dabble in it. A vague tweet about police arresting someone turned into an opportunity to stoke fears about an ascendant police state. With a meme.
Still, I had a measly 500 followers. So I dabbled in the dark arts, bought bots and BOOM: In spite of Twitter's and Facebook's latest efforts to crack down on bot activity, I was finally close to my goal ... and it felt terrible.
As the game went on, I embraced conspiracy theories. I attacked the World Health Organization for vaccines. I took revenge on fact checkers for calling me out on my garbage content. I impersonated the family of a plane crash victim. I brought down legitimate investigations into tragedy.
And at long last, with 7,946 highly effective (if not entirely organic) followers, it was over. I had ruined Twitter and all I had to show for it was a heightened profile, partisan prestige, an ascendant news site and zero real problems as a result of my fake news. Now excuse me as I go read a book or something.
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