back to article A game to 'vaccinate' people against fake news? Umm... Fake news

Separating fact from fiction is a very different challenge in the fake news age, and there’s no end of people ready to opine on how to do it. Now boffins from famed Brit university Cambridge have decided to get in on the action by launching a game to "vaccinate" the public against it. The Bad News game puts players in the …

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  1. Anonymous Noel Coward
    Trollface

    I've heard fake news vaccines cause autism.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The problem that I have

    is that any moderation of content is a form of censorship and who gets to decide what is and isn't acceptable ?

    If the content is illegal then there are laws enough already to deal with it.

    Otherwise who shall judge these self-appointed Judges but those Judges themselves ?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The problem that I have

      Acceptable content is whatever the government of the day says it is.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Acceptable content is whatever the government of the day says it is.

        Jawohl, meine Führerin.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Megaphone

      Re: The problem that I have

      It's not censorship. It's editorship.

      If I go out and look at crap websites and go down the conspiracy rabbithole then that's my concern. Nobody is (yet) talking about getting rid of those. If I post that on my Facebook page, that's still fine. My friends can then see it but it's still not Facebook's problem. So long as there are ways to get that stuff taken down if it's an ISIS beheading video or something.

      However as soon as Facebook decide to edit a newsfeed then they become publishers. As soon as they make the choice to take that content that I've posted and stick it in everyone else's "news feed" then they're publishing it, and they should be responsible for it.

      Now FB's argument is basically: Poor us. It ain't fair. We didn't write it. Boo hoo. And we didn't publish it, our users put it there. And anyway an algorithm did it and ran away, we didn't so we're not responsible.

      1. You wrote the fucking algorithm. You take responsibility for your own fucking choices. An algorithm is simply a procedure for getting a computer to follow your instructions. If you get those instructions wrong - it's your fault. Do better next time.

      2. You've got loads 'a money. You're no longer start-ups. Spend some of it on making your service less shit.

      3. You're the cheapskates who built a business model based on getting your users to create your content at no cost to you. Plus a liberal amount of taking publishers' content and freeloading on it (Youtube we're also looking at you). So don't complain that some of that content is awful and you're going to have to spend money fixing it. Write good content and pay your way - or scrutinise the shit you get for free.

      4. The moment you start selecting material, by human or by algorithm, you're an editor. Take responsibility for your choices.

      5. Oh yes, and try fucking thinking ahead once in a while. Yes, we all make mistake. But if you're going to take advertising money direct from the Russian government during the US election campaign, maybe that should raise just the teensiest question or two. Oh I see. You like money, and don't give a fuck about anything else? Oh well, in that case, fair enough. Who could argue with that?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        It's not censorship. It's editorship.

        If the original poster and the moderator are different people, you can call it what you want, but it is still censorship of one by another.

        1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

          Re: It's not censorship. It's editorship.

          If the original poster and the moderator are different people, you can call it what you want, but it is still censorship of one by another.

          Censorship attempts to stop material appearing anywhere at all. Editing/moderating merely stops material appearing in one place. The difference is qualitative as well as quantitative.

          If I stop you spray painting your slogan on my living room wall it isn't censorship.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The problem that I have

        The Guardian online comments are notorious for their moderators editing them without any indication they have done so. By chopping out a chunk of a posting they can alter the whole tone or meaning. Not sure what the poster sees in their account history - their original or the edited version?

        When they totally remove a comment - the poster has no vision of the posting in their account history so may not realise it was removed.

        On relatively innocuous subjects a posting may be removed because it legitimately challenges the article's factual statements or an apparent ideological bias.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: The problem that I have

          You shouldn't edit someone's post without clear warning. I've been a forum Mod and the [snip]play nice - the Mods[snip] is acceptable to save an otherwise good post that's gone too far. But in general it's better to just delete the whole thing. Which sometimes leaves you forced to delete one-or-two follow-up posts, which no longer make sense.

          However moderation ain't censorship. Censorship is where you're not allowed to make your argument by the government. There's no requirement that anyone has to listen to you. The Guardian have built that audience and that platform, and it's theirs to control. If they let you have your say on it, then well done them. If they don't, it's a shame. But it's not their job to give you their audience - you can always go out and get your own.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The problem that I have

          "The Guardian online comments are notorious for their moderators editing them without any indication they have done so."

          Think they had an article (may have been on one of their podcasts) where they explained how they went about moderating comments especially on topiocs that were likely to produce responses that "would need to be moderated" ... basically a lot of the moderation was done automatically on the basis of them deciding on a list of words/phrases that were likely to be used in offensive posts ... which means wuite "acceptable" posts could be delete if they happenmed to use any of these trigger words.

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Re: The problem that I have

            To be fair to the Guardian, proper moderation is very expensive. Especially when you have as many users and comments as they do. Most of their threads that allow comments go into the hundreds, and the contentious ones go into the thousands.

            And here's an important difference. The Guardian do it, and lost £30-odd million last year. Facebook make over a billion a quarter.

            The Register are lucky that their commentards are relatively fluffy and benign.

            1. Omgwtfbbqtime Silver badge
              Devil

              Re: The problem that I have

              "The Register are lucky that their commentards are relatively fluffy and benign."

              Oh Do Fuck Off.

              Sorry, had to be said.

              Along with bring back the Moderatrix!

              1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
                Happy

                Re: The problem that I have

                Omgwtfbbqtime,

                Bollocks!

        3. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: The problem that I have

          The Guardian online comments are notorious for their moderators editing them without any indication they have done so.

          They are? That's the first time I've heard of that, in a dozen years of posting there. I know they remove comments, sometimes what seem to me to be very innocuous ones, and say that they've been removed, but editing someone else's words without indication of having done so is an entirely different thing. It would be a huge negative step.

          I think I'd want to see proof before accepting a claim like that.

    3. Commswonk Silver badge

      Re: The problem that I have

      @ AC: Otherwise who shall judge these self-appointed Judges but those Judges themselves ?

      Tut tut. On this forum the correct expression is Quis custodiet ipsos custodes.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "...there isn't a simple fix"

    Yes there is. Abandon social media. It's not like news isn't available elsewhere.

    1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      Re: "...there isn't a simple fix"

      So "news" isn't just the name of that sidebar on facebook and "reliable source" isn't a synonym for "writing in capital letters on twitter" ?

      ( Fortunately people in this age group don't tend to vote ).

  4. wolfetone Silver badge
    Facepalm

    To think all this Fake News bullshit started when someone said - as a joke - that Pope Francis endorsed Trump for the Presidency.

  5. frank ly Silver badge

    DIY version

    You can do this 'vaccination' thing for yourself at home. At least twice a day, you need to use the internet to watch an Isis/Daesh propaganda video or read an extreme right wing loony/racist website. After a few weeks of that you'll notice a change in your life.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: DIY version

      The Telegraph online - judging by its Premium content visible text - is no longer a trusted source for me. Many of the current affairs contributors seem to be following an unusually right wing ideological line.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: DIY version

        to be following an unusually right wing ideological line.

        Follow the money.

        You need to read the last year stats from different Eu countries. All of them have published salary stats for 2017 now. GDP stats are a bit lagging behind, but they can be estimated from the salary ones.

        The more NUTS and RIGHTWING UK is, the bigger the OUTFLOW of money into Eastern Europe from scared immigrants and companies executing contingency planning. At the current rate, the resulting growth there for 2017 is ~20%. No, this is not a joke - open salary stats for Bulgaria, Romania or Poland. You will see numbers in the up to 25% range.

        When there is a 20% increase in core macro-economical metrics there is a shitload of money to be made. It, in fact, is being made. The ROI on real estate investments down there is in the 200%+ in 2-3 years at present.

        Open the Paradise papers, the register of Parliamentary interests and the corporate registers in those countries. You will see that some of the most rabidly patriotic, xenophobic "Britain First" MPs actually have financial interests in this boom. I have traced a couple. Nothing personal just business - in order to verify that my own investment strategies are sufficiently "backed up" and likely to succeed. I suspect that the two are not an exception - it is most of them.

        From there on, setting a few pennies aside to ensure that the media persevere with the xenophobia is a minor expense. The more rabid the xenophobia - the more the money outflow. The more money dumped into the real estate market in let's say Sofia, the more profit for some well known rabidly pro-exit UK party sponsors. The price for a hatchet job in the ToryGraph is recouped by selling one office or an apartment in an up-market area. It is a bargain (compared to, for example, the price for a demand from MPs).

        It is not something we can stop either (as the demands of 62 from this morning show).

      2. wolfetone Silver badge

        Re: DIY version

        "The Telegraph online - judging by its Premium content visible text - is no longer a trusted source for me. Many of the current affairs contributors seem to be following an unusually right wing ideological line."

        There is a reason why it's called The Torygraph.

        1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

          Re: DIY version

          There is a reason why it's called The Torygraph.

          It always was, but the recent changes are something different. I have no problem with a right leaning journalist who makes a coherent argument backed by hard facts, anything that makes me think about my own position is good, but the Telegraph seems to have lost most good journalists it had and sacked the rest over the last year or so, to replace them with what seems like a mix of high profile Rentagobs and unpaid interns.

    2. Kabukiwookie Bronze badge

      Re: DIY version

      After a few weeks of that you'll notice a change in your life.

      That's why the impact of channels like MSNBC, Fox and CNN have such an impact. These are hardly impartial 'news' sources; they're all owned by just a few companies in the media 'industry' and the idiocy that's spouted is mind-boggling.

      It's also the reason why people start looking for alternative sources of news, since the information coming from the public announcement outlets is no longer news, but has become propaganda (aka fake news) itself.

  6. Not also known as SC Silver badge
    Mushroom

    'Fake News' - I hate that Term!

    I wish people would stop calling it fake news. It is either lies or it isn't Calling it fake news seems to legitimize the lies in some way and makes it less of a lie.

    Take the joke comment about vaccines and autism above. When Dr Wakeman (?) said that the MMR vaccine caused autism did he really believe it or not? The prevailing opinion at the moment is that he didn't believe his conclusions while he told people about them. In that case he wasn't spreading 'fake news', he was lying. Even if he had believed his research was true, then again it isn't 'fake news' - it was just wrong as subsequent research has shown. The nearest I can think of to a legitimized use of the term is when statistics are cherry picked in order to present a certain view point. But then if the statistics are picked to give a misleading view that again is lying and if the statistics are just poorly chosen that is a mistake on the pickers part.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: 'Fake News' - I hate that Term!

      I don't know if Wakefield believed his crap or not. He had a conflict of interest, because he ran a company that did the vaccines individually - but it's entirely possible that he believed that the MMR vaccine caused autism, and so went out to prove it and also make money from it on the side.

      He did fake some of the data in the research though. Which is why his co-researchers initially supported him, and then suddenly found out and rapidly distanced themselves from him.

      He also took samples from children without the parents permission at events to promote his single vaccines.

      And of course put the parents of kids with autism through hell, thinking that it was partly their fault that their kids had the condition. And some still believe it's a government cover-up because of his bollocks.

      The bad thing was the hysterical coverage from the press at only one bit of research questioning the vaccines, and the scientific ignorance of papers like the Mail in continuing to promote the story when it looked like it might be bollocks.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: 'Fake News' - I hate that Term!

      I think there can be a difference between fake news and lies. Lies are easy to spot. You can often easily find the facts to counter them.

      Fake news sometimes uses all factual information, but just misses out the context. Also as used by the Russian government it seems to be about sowing doubt and discord, rather than promoting anything. They're not trying to persuade people that Russia is great. They're trying to persuade people that everywhere else is equally shit.

      I'd say the Daily Mail's approach to diet and health is pretty close to fake news. They're playing for a reaction from their readers to get more readers / clicks. The Mail is a carefully crafted product designed to keep its readers outraged and engaged. And they've suffered least from the press circulation apocalypse over the last 20 years. To be fair they also do some proper campaigning journalism sometimes.

      I also think the Guardian's coverage of Brexit has got pretty close too. Although I suspect it's more out of passion than cynicism. 2 or 3 times a week there's an opinion piece about how the referendum should be overturned because reasons + Brexiteers are all stupid. That garners many clicks and comments. Ramps up the outrage. If there's bad economic news: Brexit!!!! If there's good or OK economic news, mumble...mumble...not as good as it could have been...mumble. If the UK government makes some statement about it, pour scorn on it. If some loudmouth like Guy Verhofstat does a bit of trolling, imply that's definitely the EU final position, and it's totally correct, and the UK government smell of poo. If some Tory backbencher does a bit of similar trolling - cry "Infamy!"

      But surely deliberately skewing the way your report news and your comment to make things more partisan and less clear - and so polarise the debate even more - is not what a good newspaper should do. Under its new editor, I think the Guardian has become the Daily Mail of the left. Which is a shame, I used to like the Guardian.

      1. Not also known as SC Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: 'Fake News' - I hate that Term!

        @ I ain't Spartacus

        Good analysis - my son was diagnosed with severe autism (20 years old and still non-verbal, he'll require 24 hour support for the rest of his life) about the time this research was released. I never believed in the vaccination link but I met lots of other parents who did. Very sad for a lot of them as it gave hope of a cure when there isn't one.

        Also your comment re The Guardian. Totally agree. They currently seem to be trying to instigate some new conflict based on peoples' ages. Apparently all of the UK's current problems are due to Baby Boomers and older who have it all and won't give their homes away to Millennials if you believe some of their latest articles.

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: 'Fake News' - I hate that Term!

          Apparently all of the UK's current problems are due to Baby Boomers and older who have it all and won't give their homes away to Millennials if you believe some of their latest articles.

          I think you may be confusing an opinion piece with a journalistic article. The Opinion columns are clearly labelled as such, and if the writer does also happen to be a Guardian journalist you'll find that stated at the bottom of the column.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This problem is caused by governments and politicians.

    They don't want an educated population because they would then be aware of what they are doing.

    They don't want an uneducated population because they then believe any old bullshit.

    If they didn't constantly talk bullshit and lie themselves then it would be much easy to spot fake news.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Perhaps the public also need to take responsibility for who they vote for? If we vote for the shiny, smiley politicians who tell us only what we want to hear - then eventually that's the only kind of politicians we'll get.

      If we scream gaffe at every politician who makes a minor mistake in an interview (or even worse expresses an inconvenient truth rather too bluntly) - then we'll get a bunch of media professionals trained to say as little as possible.

      1. Ledswinger Silver badge

        Perhaps the public also need to take responsibility for who they vote for?

        Unfortunately entrenched voting patterns mean the only change is one bunch of out-of-touch hooray henrys for another. Both have the same lack of competence and honesty, and an addiction to misinformation and obfuscation.

        The only real difference is one lot want the economy to be run by their mates, the other bunch want to run the economy themselves.

      2. Kabukiwookie Bronze badge

        Perhaps the public also need to take responsibility for who they vote for?

        Taking responsibility is fine, but only if you are able to have a real effect on the outcome.

        It also requires education and maturity. Some base knowledge of psychology, history and economics are required to understand what's going on in one's surroundings and to identify what motivates people.

        I have met many 40 year old people, who may have had an education, but can hardly be called mature, nor are they interested in any other motivation than their own short term interests.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "They don't want an uneducated population because they then believe any old bullshit."

    Political extremes prefer uneducated audiences - they are obedient to an ideological dog whistle.

  9. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    Media studies

    I've never done media studies - so no idea if it's the joke course it's often derided as. But we really ought to teach this in schools. Along with some sort of basic "citizenship" lessons - teaching about elections, and how to get the benefits you're entitled to and who to go to for help if you've been screwed over by your bank.

    I got my media studies lesson from learning history. The big question you have to ask is about the reliability of your sources. So a primary source was there at the time, or got the information directly from participants - which you hope gives more accuracy. But also increases the likelihood of bias, as they might like or dislike the people concerned. You also learn that some historians cheat, by selecting their sources. And that as no historian can see all the sources, everyone will be introducing some bias by what they select. Which is of course a great tool for looking at the media.

    You even get this innoculation thing from it. As you have to write essays. And in those you're asked to construct an argument. Often you actually put both sides of the argument, and of course you get to pick which one is stronger, and will therefore win, and write your conclusion accordingly. Which is really good training for reading journalist's opinion pieces - where they do love to select a nice straw man to beat, instead of looking at the real argument from the other side. Although nowadays it seems more fashionable to deny that the other side even have a legitimate argument (Guardian I'm looking at you here - but you're not alone).

    I post this because of the quote from the article:

    Bernie Hogan of the Oxford Internet Institute said that the gamification of fake news was “putting a nice face” on the idea that individuals - not experts or respected institutions - are now in charge of defining truth and fiction.

    "It's creating the impression that it's the consumer’s job to arbitrate the facts - and all facts are fair game for the consumer to arbitrate," Hogab said.

    You can't always trust the institutions either. In a democracy we are all responsible for checking. Because the experts and institutions often have their own self-interest to protect - or suffer from groupthink.

    Look at the Brexit debate for examples. The Telegraph never reports anything good the EU does, the Guardian treats all bad Brexit news as imminent disaster and ignores anything that doesn't fit this narrative. Meanwhile institutions like the CBI tell us that leaving will be a disaster (coincidentally remaining is in their collective interests), and might well be right. But neglect to mention that they also told us not joining the Euro would be a disaster, which it definitely wasn't.

    So on Brexit what news source can you trust? The Beeb tried very hard I think, but had already burned a lot of their credibilty with Brexiteers being quite partisan about EU issues the decade before. Maybe it's no wonder the debate has become so polarised and poisonous. Everyone's in their bubble - screaming abuse at the other side, but unable to listen to them.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Media studies

      So on Brexit what news source can you trust?

      None in English and printed or broadcast in the UK I am afraid. Everyone with money has a BIG stake in it going one way or the other so all the media has been bought wholesale.

      There are BILLIONs of investment bets at stake and some of them are not the ones you would expect like rabid BrExiteer members of the 62 group investing in Eastern European and Irish real estate.

      Paying the media to pull a particular party line in order to protect these investments is within the rounding error on their spreadsheets.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Media studies

        Hmmm. The 62 Group?

        A quick check online gives The 62 Group as an artist-led international cooperative of textile artists. I'm guessing you don't mean them.

        Wikipedia mentions a British militant anti-fascist group formed in 1962 for a bit of a rumble with the National Front. But I'm guessing it's not them either.

        Even the New World Order or the Illuminati turn up on internet searches...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Media studies

          Hmmm. The 62 Group?

          Read the news.

          https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/feb/20/tory-mps-sign-letter-to-theresa-may-outlining-hard-brexit-goals

          The 62 signatories of the letter to May from this morning. Should be 61+1 group - 61 people sucking on a walking stick and the person carrying it for show without any need to have it.

          I can spot at least two of them who have real estate investments in Eastern Europe. They are in good company too. Even the Royals have joined the feeding frenzy there.

    2. Kabukiwookie Bronze badge

      Re: Media studies

      You can't always trust the institutions either.

      Most institutions receive money from other entities, some through subsidies from government, some 'think tanks' are wholly sponsored by corporations that have their own agenda.

      Checking who makes a statement and identifying who is paying this persons income are good starts to check whether someone's statements should be taken with a grain of salt.

      Also, when viewing history, I find it better to look at facts, instead of stated motivations for those facts taking place. If the facts seem to support the stated motivation, then it's more likely to be near to the truth. Psychology, understanding of human tribalism and basic economy are needed to understand current politics and the politicians running for office.

  10. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    So...

    ...one of the early takeaways (which might be a main one if you quit the game after a couple of minutes) is to look for misplaced umlauts in well-known names like HBO or NASA...

    So... we have to decide whether a piece of information from an anonymous source we know nothing about, or a piece of information from a major US Government funded institution is more likely to be true?

    Given that NASA is by now famous for fiddling the raw data on global temperatures to support their favourite thesis of 'Climate Change', I would suggest that the anonymous source starts off with an advantage...

    1. strum Silver badge

      Re: So...

      >Given that NASA is by now famous for fiddling the raw data on global temperatures to support their favourite thesis of 'Climate Change'

      That isn't fake news. It's a lie.

  11. codejunky Silver badge

    Hmm

    The problem with fake news is defining it. When it comes the the facts they can be cherry picked. When it comes to extrapolating from those facts there can be errors or bias. When it comes to opinion it meets personal perception and interpretation. When it is without fact it is pure lie.

    At what point do we call it fake news?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hmm

      "At what point do we call it fake news?"

      When it is an opinion piece or editorial which is not labelled as such, that is pretty much a guaranty that some form of inaccuracy will follow.

      Unfortunately, most (all?) news sources seem to feel obliged to turn a 30 second (1 paragraph?) news item into a debate.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hmm

      "At what point do we call it fake news?"

      ... normally as soon as it promotes a point of view that we disagree with

    3. Dr_N Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Hmm

      @codejunky

      Delicious Irony from one of El Reg's consummate commentard purveyors of alt.facts. Bravo, Sir.

      1. codejunky Silver badge

        Re: Hmm

        @ Dr_N

        "Delicious Irony from one of El Reg consummate commentard purveyors of alt.facts. Bravo, Sir."

        Nice of you to step up sir. Did you expect us all to clap? Ok *slow clap*

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hmm

      As I recall, the term "fake news" was originally applied to the situation where people see the headline "Breaking news! Pope assassinated!", but when they click on it they get redirected to a porn or gambling site. Applying the term to any kind of lies and propaganda is just daft. Lies and propaganda have existed for millennia, and so have rumours. We really don't need a trendy new name for it.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's also ever evolving headlines that cause problems.

    Take for example the BBC today no less, "Met Police loses appeal" becomes "Met Police loses 'landmark' appeal." Clearly a case of lets make this look really important, I have no doubt it is important but someone must have sat there in a meeting at dinner time and said lets make it look more important.

    This is also very apparent on what is being reported and numbers, few/many/scores/dozens, the choice of words depends on the what has happened. Terrorist events overdone, natural disasters or accidents give exact numbers.

    Then they wonder why and how fake news is able to spread and believed when they don't accurately report the news themselves and put huge slants on stories. The mainstream press have a lot to answer for.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Take for example the BBC today no less, ..."

      ... its still got the next stage of evoluition into "The BBC can reveal that the Met has lost a landmark appeal" ... followed by the inevitable "... and you can hear more informatioon on this in Panorama at 8pm" as the BBC news continually turns into a series of "product placements" for other BBC programs

    2. Snorlax Silver badge
      FAIL

      @AC

      @AC:"Take for example the BBC today no less, "Met Police loses appeal" becomes "Met Police loses 'landmark' appeal." Clearly a case of lets make this look really important, I have no doubt it is important but someone must have sat there in a meeting at dinner time and said lets make it look more important."

      It *is* a landmark decision from the Supreme Court, as the police now have to accept that they have a duty to properly investigate crimes as reported to them. This wasn't an appeal against a parking ticket for fucks sake....

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