Fake It To Make It is a browser-based game with an unusual premise. Players create and operate virtual ‘fake news’ websites with the goal of racking up dollars.

The more fear, drama and believability scores a player generates, the more dollars they earn. It’s surprisingly simple – and “profitable.” It also makes for a compelling game, logging over 90,000 user sessions in its first year.

Amanda Warner, the creator of the game, hopes it can play a role in fighting the online misinformation phenomenon through education.

“The purpose of the game is for players to leave with a better understanding of how misinformation is created, spread and emotionally targeted, so that they are more skeptical of information that they encounter in the future,” reads the game description.

Warner is an Ohio-based learning designer and developer who turned her attention to ‘fake news’ after the 2016 presidential election in the United States.

“I was depressed about the amount of fake information I saw leading up to the election,” she says. “I wanted to create a project to address that.”

Armed with extensive experience creating games and interactive curricula, Warner set out to better understand the ‘fake news’ ecosystem.

“I looked at a lot of fake news sites to get ideas,” she says. Warner also scoured news coverage about the phenomenon, like BuzzFeed’s investigation of a fake news factory in Macedonia.

Fake It To Make It has caught the attention of educators. “I’ve had really positive feedback from teachers that it sparks great discussions,” she says.

It’s in the classroom that Fake It To Make It and other interactive approaches to Web literacy can have an outsized impact. According to a 2016 Stanford University report, “young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak.”

The research shows how more than 7,800 middle school, high school and college students in the United States judged the credibility of online information in different contexts. In one exercise, 40% of high school students trusted an uncited photo from an image-sharing site without question.

“They didn’t ask where it came from,” said Sam Wineburg, a professor of education and history at Stanford who is the lead author of the study, in an interview with NPR. “They simply accepted the picture as fact.”

Screenshot from the game Fake It To Make It, shared by Amanda Warner.

The study also evaluated the ability of students to identify the difference between ads and news articles. Of 350 middle school students, 75% were able to successfully tell the difference between a traditional ad and news. But native ads – ads that match the look and feel of the platform they appear on – proved more difficult. Over 80% of the 350 students thought native ads were news stories, even when clearly labeled “sponsored content.”

When it comes to better training children and young adults to evaluate online content, Warner puts it simply: “If you can help teach people to be skeptical, especially middle schoolers and high schoolers, that’s something that’s critically needed in today’s world.”

Further reading:

Fake It To Make It
Mission:Information Teaching Kit
Evaluating Sources in a ‘Post-Truth’ World: Ideas for Teaching and Learning About Fake News
Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning, Stanford History Education Group, 2016