Throughout May-December of 2020 Debunk ran a media literacy project in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia with a goal to increase the resilience amongst the citizens of the Baltic countries through a gamified media literacy program. The audiences in the Baltics (both local language and Russian speakers) were chosen as target audience because the region is being constantly bombarded with false and misleading information spread by hostile (mostly Kremlin-related) sources. Moreover, a substantial part of malign content is disseminated in Russian language and is targeted to Russian minorities.
For this purpose, the BadNews game developed by DROG with Cambridge University was chosen as a possible solution to address the media literacy needs in the Baltics. It was first adapted for the local Lithuanian speaking audience in Lithuania, and then presented in Latvia and Estonia.
Achievements of the BadNews game project in the Baltic countries in 2020
In total, 6 pages were created for the BadNews game – one for Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian audiences, alongside with a Russian version for each of those three countries.
The BadNews game is simple and quite straightforward: players are shown a short text or image (such as a meme or article headline) and can react to them in a variety of ways. Their score in the game is measured by followers’ and ‘credibility’. Choosing an option which is in line with what a ‘real’ producer of disinformation would do gets them more followers and credibility. If, however, they lie too blatantly to their followers, choose an option that is overtly ridiculous or act too much in line with journalistic best practices, the game either takes followers away or lowers their credibility. The goal is to gather as many followers as possible without losing too much credibility.
47 cases were selected to be adapted in the game from all three countries, choosing news stories which have received the most attention from the audiences. Local cases created a sense of reality in the game and helped showcase how easy it is to create false/misleading content online, how it is distributed, and which techniques are used to influence the audience.
To measure the impact of the project, we carried out two surveys: one general, and one of people who played the Bad News game. We compared how much the perception of credibility of the information online changed after people have played the BadNews game and found that those who did play the game started perceiving the information online more critically and did not trust it as much as they did before.
One of the most important accomplishments of the project was reaching the older generation. According to the data gathered in the end of the project, in Lithuania, 55 years and older players constituted 40%, in Latvia 28%, and in Estonia 35% of all players.
Moreover, we have learned that the biggest impact was made amongst the younger audiences – 35.5% of citizens under 34 years old in Lithuania have stated that their resilience has increased, which is a great result compared to the average of 22.35%.
The Inoculation theory
The BadNews game, which is based on Inoculation Theory, confers resistance against disinformation by putting players in the position of those creating it. In turn, players gain insights into the various tactics and methods used by ‘real’ fake newsmongers to spread their message. By learning the ways false and misleading information is created and spread, people become more resilient to disinformation and can recognize it faster.
The research by Cambridge University has shown that the perceived reliability of fake news before playing the BadNews game had reduced by an average of 21% after completing it. It is a staggering result, therefore, as the Baltic states undoubtedly face a grave threat of disinformation spread by Kremlin-related media, we have decided to adapt the game in the region and by doing so meet the media literacy needs.