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Get Real

Can you sniff out fake news? 


Illustra­tion by
Chelsea Beck/NPR

Illustration depicting fake news

Study: Humans now have shorter attention spans than goldfish.

Is that headline real or fake?

If you guessed the former, you're right. (And if you're still reading this story, bravo; apparently, humans' eight-second attention span is one second less than that of our finned pets.)

That Telegraph headline, along with dozens more from the real New York Post, the fake Alabama Observer, and other outlets, appears in Factitious, a new game that challenges users to discern fact from fiction (swipe left for fake and right for real, à la Tinder). The game—available at factitious.augamestudio.com—was created by Maggie Farley, a former fellow with the School of Communication's JoLT (Journalism Leadership Transformation initiative), and the AU Game Lab. It was funded by a grant from the Knight Foundation.

Farley, an award-winning foreign correspondent with the Los Angeles Times, pitched the concept in early 2016—long before President Trump introduced "fake news" into the American vernacular. 

"People have always been trying to manipulate information for their own ends," she told NPR. But what we're seeing now is "fake news with a capital 'F.'"

"Facebook and Twitter have created a wild, wild West in online media," says SOC professor Bob Hone, who designed the game. "Factitious brings a desperately needed dose of civility to online news."

Fact from fiction

The Factitious team has developed several tips to help people spot fake news:

  • Look for a byline, date, and named sources. Check the source—is it partisan, independent, or satire?—and the "about us" section.
  • If there's no contact information, that's a red flag, as are spelling and punctuation errors.
  • Identify the purpose of the article: is it trying to inform, inflame, persuade, or entertain?
  • A quick search of factcheck.org, snopes.com, and politifact.com will either verify or debunkthe story.
  • Finally, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't. If the story makes you feel angry, smug, or confirms your biases, you're likely being manipulated.