Created in partnership with Annenberg Public Policy Center (FactCheck.org) and developed by Filament Games, iCivics’ NewsFeed Defenders tasks players with moderating a fictional social media website focused on news and information, attempting to grow a flourishing user base while fighting against dubious posts containing clickbait, viral deception, and flagrantly biased content. Designed to help players sharpen their media literacy skills, the game engages players with the standards of journalism, showing how to spot a variety of methods behind the viral deception many online face daily – a uniquely 21st century problem that requires an innovative 21st century solution to address.
In creating NewsFeed Defenders, iCivics and partner Annenberg Public Policy Center (FactCheck.org) wish to help students develop their “gut feeling” for quality journalism, sharpening their sense for detecting when social media posts and content are untrustworthy. The team hopes NewsFeed Defenders makes a lasting impact on students by presenting content that is both relevant and entertaining to students – at the beginning of the game, for instance, players have the ability to choose an affinity group (options include Sports and Entertainment, Health and Wellness, and Student Life), allowing them to tailor their game experience to their own unique interests. Content that strays away from high-quality journalism ranges from slightly one-sided coverage of an upcoming state playoff game to blatantly false information regarding an upcoming election. As players progress through the game, they find that the presence of low-quality posts can have lasting consequences on the perceived quality and trustworthiness of their site, severely damaging the overall reputation of the social media group they moderate.
Ensuring that the content presented in-game was wholly non-partisan was a top priority for the team at iCivics when developing NewsFeed Defenders.
“Rather than fill the game with partisan ads and clearly biased political content, we decided early on to use the same tactics, but in a more familiar and relevant setting for our students.” says Carrie Ray-Hill, Director of Digital Learning at iCivics.
Carrie states this decision was based on two key factors.
“First, there is enough of that nonsense in the real world. Recreating it in our game risked merely amplifying it for our students. It also came with a greater risk of seeming partisan–even if the content itself was 100% balanced. Second, so much of the digital deception used in the political realm uses layers upon layers of civic/governmental/historical knowledge or dearly held opinions on that knowledge. We wanted the students to engage with content deeply, but without requiring significant previous knowledge or bias.”
For instance, one story presented in-game – titled “Is Your Breakfast Out to Kill You?” – refers to “studies” showing that eating processed meat, like bacon, can cause an 18% increased cancer risk. Additionally, the article claims that enough bread can cause bread addiction, a deadly ailment according to breakfast health expert Benedict Scramble. As you might have already guessed, this story is a hot plate mess – in NewsFeed Defenders, acceptable posts must contain accurate facts and information, with cited sources and claims that can be independently verified.
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