Unless you've abandoned American society for a bit of “Eat, Pray, Love” self-reflection, you've probably heard the term “fake news” at least once. Fake news on Facebook was targeted during the post-presidential election and Democratic blame game, and the term has become an all-encompassing catchphrase of President Donald Trump.
While the term “fake news” originated from clickbait articles touting outrageous, misleading headlines that had nothing to do with the articles themselves, online evolution and our natural leaning toward confirmation bias has made it harder to spot.
Fortunately for unsuspecting Americans, a team at American University has found a way to make learning to identify fake news stories both educational and enjoyable.
Factitious is a game that presents actual news stories that have been published online, and the player has to decide if they're real or fake. If you've ever swiped for love on Tinder, you'll recognize the format of the game pretty quickly.
For example, here is a story with the headline “Nassau County Man, High on Meth, Cuts Off Genitals And Feeds Them To Alligator.”
Sure, it sounds absurd, but stranger things have happened. After all, the victim's full name is given by the writer, and the use of “until they reviewed CCTV footage,” makes it sound a bit more legitimate. Still, none of his neighbors were named ... and the generic use of “investigators” is a bit fishy.
Before making a decision, you can scroll down and select “show source,” because the URL can be a major indicator if the story is real or fake.
“FloridaSunPost.com” sounds like it could be a real website, but is the story real?
Nope. While “FloridaSunPost.com” sounds credible and truly exists, Factitious noted that the story is “designed to get clicks and ad revenue,” proving that spotting fake news may not be as easy as it sounds.
Let's try one more.
For some people, this article titled, “Study: Average Person's Enjoyment of Vacation Drops 36% For Each Additional Family Member Present,” is a no-brainer — real all the way.
But, after putting personal experiences aside, does it still maintain its credibility? The story does mention the University of Maryland and the full name of an alleged lead researcher.
The statistic of “36%” doesn't necessarily seem outrageous, and the source is “The Onion,” which may sound familiar. It's probably real, right?
Wrong. While The Onion may sound familiar and you may have seen articles from the site pop up on your social media, it's a satirical website, and the statistics of the article is completely fake.
It seems the days of utterly absurd articles that clearly have less merit than a participation trophy may be over, but that just means it's twice as important to “trust, but verify.” Go ahead — give the game a go and see how many fake articles you can spot.