A new game plays with ideas about how disinformation works in East Africa How can all internet users become more discerning online?

19 June 2020


App check game 1

Disinformation — intentionally “fake news” — is a chronic problem everywhere in the world, but the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated information overload. From fake coronavirus cures to misleading information about mandatory vaccinations that have stoked fears worldwide, it has become increasingly difficult to suss out the truth.

All it takes is the click of a “share” or “forward” button for disinformation to become misinformation that spreads like wildfire through personal networks on applications and platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook.

Across Africa, where internet penetration is still relatively low at about 40 percent on average, many users are coming online for the first time. And around the world, many internet users, whether experienced or not, lack the digital literacy tools necessary to distinguish trustworthy news from false news.

How can all internet users become more discerning online?

This is the main idea behind “Choose Your Own Fake News,” a web-based game exploring how disinformation spreads across East Africa, created by Neema Iyer, founder and director of Pollicy, an Uganda-based organization supporting civic technology across the continent.

Iyer explained the motivation behind her game in a Mozilla Foundation press release:

   Online misinformation has real implications offline. It can threaten people’s lives, freedom of expression, and prosperity. This is especially true in parts of East Africa, where people are coming online for the first time and don’t yet have the proper context to distinguish what’s trustworthy from what’s not.

‘Did you see that video on WhatsApp?’

“Chose Your Own Fake News” teaches new internet users how to be more discerning about the information they receive and encounter in digital spaces.

Players select one of three characters in East Africa: Flora, a job-seeking student, Jo, a shopkeeper, or Aida, a 62-year-old retired grandmother. Players then scrutinize news headlines, videos and social media posts through the lens of each character.

App check game 2

“Players’ decisions make the difference between correctly debunking disinformation — or falling victim to fraud, hospitalizing a loved one, and even accidentally inciting a mob,” the Mozilla press release explained.

As players follow their character's various decisions, the game provides detailed information about how dis- and misinformation work, highlighting the role that individuals play in intercepting false or unverified information before they spread it.

For example, Aida receives a forwarded message from her cousin with a video of a child crying after receiving a measles vaccine. Should Aida share that video? Measles is vaccine-preventable but cases continue to soar due to false information.

“Platforms like YouTube and Facebook recommend and amplify content that keeps internet users clicking — even if it’s radical or flat-out wrong,” Mozilla Foundation said. Read the full article on Global Voices Online here.