"Troll Factory" games teaches you how fake news is spread - and why

Troll Factory is an entertaining online edugame that shows you how disinformation merchants infiltrate social media and spread their corrosive anti-democracy propaganda.

Yle's Troll Factory game asks you to imagine you are a professional troll who tries to amass influence in social media by spreading fear, bias and suspicion using botnets, paid marketing and internet memes. The game combines authentic social media content with game-like simulation that's personalised based on the user's choices.

Fake news, hate speech and conspiracy theories spread in Facebook, Instagram and Youtube. The big internet behemoths can't stop this from happening. So it's becoming increasingly hard for people to notice when they share, comment or like something inaccurate online -- even unintentionally.

"We decided to turn the whole fake news problem upside down. What if you became an actual troll to understand the motives and intentions behind today's information wars?" says Jarno M. Koponen who's leading the project for the Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle's News Lab in Helsinki.

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There is no chemical that will turn pool water a different color if you pee in it

We wish it were true but, alas, there is no chemical that turns pool water blue if someone pees in it. At Mel Magazine, Mike Rampton investigates:

“Most pools are 20,000 gallons (91,000 liters) or more, so to make a few ounces of urine show up as a bright color would take some serious chemistry,” says bzsteele, a former pool supplies store employee, who recalls new pool owners asking about the dye. “There are cheap tests that could detect urine, but things like sweat, detergent and lotions would also be likely to spike them, so you’d be thrown off by all kinds of false positives. And once the reaction had happened, I’m not sure how you would undo it and get the pool back to stable.”

There’s also the fact that disinfection byproducts, or DBPs — created when the chlorine in pools reacts with the endless streams of pee released into them — are far more harmful than chlorine or urine would be on their own. Haloacetic acid, trihalomethane and chlorite can all be created by chlorine and organic matter (sweat as well as pee) reacting together, and can lead to respiratory issues, eye complaints, “lifeguard lung” and asthma. Adding more volatile chemicals, then, is unlikely to improve matters. And although pool disinfection techniques that require less chlorine (such as UV light, saltwater and hydroxyl-based systems) are increasingly being taken up by pool owners concerned about DBPs, a color-changing substance to stop people peeing in the pool is still nowhere in sight.

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Podcast: Fake News is an Oracle

In my latest podcast, I read my new Locus column: Fake News is an Oracle. For many years, I've been arguing that while science fiction can't predict the future, it can reveal important truths about the present: the stories writers tell reveal their hopes and fears about technology, while the stories that gain currency in our discourse and our media markets tell us about our latent societal aspirations and anxieties.

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"Fake News is an Oracle": how the falsehoods we believe reveal the truth about our fears and aspirations

For many years, I've been arguing that while science fiction can't predict the future, it can reveal important truths about the present: the stories writers tell reveal their hopes and fears about technology, while the stories that gain currency in our discourse and our media markets tell us about our latent societal aspirations and anxieties. In Fake News is an Oracle, my latest Locus Magazine column, I use this tool to think about the rise of conspiratorial thinking and ask what it says about our world. Read the rest

A "Fake News Game" that "vaccinates" players against disinformation

Bad News is a free webgame created by two Cambridge psych researchers; in a 15-minute session, it challenges players to learn about and deploy six tactics used in disinformation campaigns ("polarisation, invoking emotions, spreading conspiracy theories, trolling people online, deflecting blame, and impersonating fake accounts"). Read the rest

Scientology hell, Hollywood destroyed, and Prince Charles’ illegal marriage, in this week’s dubious tabloids

They put the hype in hyperbole. They put the tat in overstatement. They put the mountain in molehill. This week's tabloids put the retch in stretching the truth, with sickening disregard for the facts.

What is “Destroying Hollywood?” According to the Globe, it’s the Michael Jackson child molestation scandal, in which superstars Barbra Streisand and Diana Ross both expressed support for the late pop idol, only to buckle under savage criticism and emphasized their sympathy for any victims of pedophilia. Or, as the Globe puts it: “Hollywood A-listers at each other’s throats over kiddie scandal.” Despite the fact that no A-listers (or B-, C-, or D-listers) have publicly attacked them. Evidently it’s the end of Hollywood as we know it. Tragic.

“My Life in Scientology Hell!” is the “explosive” exclusive dominating the cover of the National Enquirer, claiming that Tom Cruise’s daughter Bella is “breaking her silence for [the] first time.” Bella actually spoke out in official Scientology promotional materials about her joy at completing training to become an auditor, which would be really useful at tax time if only it meant she’d studied accountancy, rather than the Scientology version of "auditing," which enables her to help "train" new recruits.

I’m not one to carry water for this divisive cult, but it’s depressing to see the Enquirer twist Bella's words so egregiously. She wrote of her training, including “hard work . . . a lot of effort . . . meltdowns and running to the bathroom to have . Read the rest

Mueller snubbed, Harry and Meghan exiled, and suicidal airline pilots in this week’s dubious tabloids

The Mueller Report is conspicuously absent from this week’s tabloids, despite landing with ample time for their deadlines. It’s a measure of how far the Trump-loving propaganda rags have publicly distanced themselves from the White House that their front covers aren’t screaming “Total Exoneration.”

No doubt that has something to do with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York's continuing investigation into the National Enquirer catch-and-kill policy of buying incriminating stories about Trump and suppressing them, with Enquirer publisher and Trump pal David Pecker cooperating with prosecutors. As headlines go, “Total Exoneration” would be about as accurate as much of this week’s fact-challenged tabloid offerings.

“Royal Family Disowns Harry & Meghan — Banished to Malta by Fed-up Queen,” proclaims the front page of the Enquirer. That’s doubtless news to the Royal couple, who have spent the past six months renovating Frognall Cottage in Windsor, England, where they plan to move in shortly. Perhaps they’ll turn it into an Airbnb rental once they’re in Malta?

“Scott Peterson Death Row Pardon!” declares the Globe cover’s report on its favorite convicted killer. “Gloating killer dances with joy,” the rag reports, which seems unlikely since he hasn’t been granted a pardon, and is unlikely to ever receive one. The story is inspired by a wildly inaccurate reading of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s newly-issued moratorium on the death penalty, which affects Scott Peterson along with 736 others on the state’s Death Row. And while the moratorium is morally and judicially welcome, it has little practical effect in a state where the last execution was more than 13 years ago because of repeated legal challenges. Read the rest

Angelina’s boozing, Prince Charles’ divorce, and college entry cheat Lori Loughlin “tells all,” in this week’s dubious tabloids

Do tabloid editors even read what their reporters write? It’s hard to imagine, given the disconnect between headlines and the barely-detectable trace elements of facts contained in the stories beneath them.

“Alex Trebek — Lung & Liver Surgery” reports the cover story of this week’s National Enquirer. But he’s had neither surgery according to the story on the inside pages about the beloved host of TV’s Jeopardy, who recently admitted having stage four pancreatic cancer. Is Trebek even poised to undergo such surgeries? Not according to the Enquirer, which says he “may be considering” such measures. Or maybe he isn’t considering them at all?

“Monster Moms Tell All,” screams the front cover of Us magazine, promising the inside scoop on Lori Laughlin and Felicity Huffman’s role in the college cheating scandal. But neither actress says a single word. About anything. The mag reports: “Now both women are trying to explain away their involvement.” Evidently they’re not trying to explain it to Us.

"R. Kelly Flunks Lie Test!” yells a spread in the Globe. A super-scientific what-could-possibly-go-wrong voice stress analysis of the beleaguered singer's appearance on TV with Gayle King shows that Kelly was stressed and therefore must have been lying. Why else would anyone be stressed appearing on national TV being accused of pedophilia? It boggles the mind why voice analysis isn’t used in criminal courts nationwide. Tom Cruise could have really used one in Minority Report instead of relying on those flaky precogs.

Sometimes you just wish that celebrities read their own press, so that they’re on the same page of the script as the tabloids. Read the rest

The Queen dying, Brad Pitt’s bigamy, and official approval for hand jobs, in this week’s dubious tabloids

Like a dog chasing a stick thrown a great distance by a trebuchet, this week’s tabloid stories are far-fetched.

Did the Queen catch her left hand in a closing door? Not if you believe this week’s National Enquirer, which interprets her purple paw as a diagnosis of leukemia, prompting its “world exclusive” cover story: “Queen, 92, Dying.” Predictably, the “secret diagnosis has Charles and William competing for the crown,” reports the Enquirer, which views the Royal succession like a reality TV show competition, in which whoever wins the immunity challenge gets to be King. You’d think by now that someone would have told the Royals that The Act of Settlement of 1701 mandates the monarch’s next in line as heir, regardless of who gets voted out by the palace tribe.

Equally beggaring belief is the Globe cover story about former husband and wife duo Aniston and Pitt, under the headline: “Jen & Brad Elope!” When they reunited briefly and awkwardly at Jennifer Aniston’s 50th birthday party last month, the Globe reports: “They knew it was destiny and they belonged together.” Because how else do you explain them both turning up at the same party she invited him to, if not destiny? So when Jen jetted to Mexico recently with friends (because why elope alone?) she sneaked away to tie the knot with Pitt in a secret ceremony. But wait – Brad's divorce from Angelina Jolie has not been finalized yet, so that would make him a bigamist if the story is true. Read the rest

CIA helped Hitler hide after WWII, Prince Harry’s real dad, and Freddie Mercury’s secret son, in this week’s dubious tabloids

Credulity is stretched like a hamstring before a yoga class in this week’s eco-friendly tabloids, which do their bit for the environment by recycling old stories and passing them off as new again.

“Prince Harry names REAL DAD Godfather!” reports the National Enquirer. Harry has allegedly named as godfather to his unborn child his longtime mentor Mark Dyer: his “real father” according to the Enquirer. Dyer was a friend of Princess Diana, and he’s a redhead, so if that isn’t definitive proof he’s Harry’s father, what is? Enquirer sister website RadarOnline touted this same story on February 8, and it doesn’t look any more convincing a month later.

Prince Harry’s wife Duchess Meghan "Demands Panic Room!” proclaims another Enquirer story, claiming that British taxpayers are footing the $50,000 bill at “her hoity-toity new digs!” The plans are so secret that “only local politicians have seen them!” Presumably those “local politicians” are also known as the local council’s Building & Works Committee. It’s not only a story recycled from London’s Daily Mirror on November 28, 2018, but it also ran in the Enquirer on February 21 – but you can’t expect the editors to read what they write in past editions.

“CIA Helped Hitler Escape Germany!” screams the Globe, taking old stories to new limits. Would it be churlish to point out that the CIA was created in 1947, two years after they allegedly faked the Fuhrer's death in a Berlin bunker and smuggled him to Colombia? The Globe offers readers a photograph of a former SS officer in Colombia after WWII seated with a man “whose mustache and haircut bear shocking similarities to the Nazi chief.” He has the same hair and whiskers as Hitler? Read the rest

Royal bombshells, Obama’s boozing daughter, and if Star Trek’s Captain Kirk was a cat, in this week’s dubious tabloids

How could so much misinformation be packed into so few words?

A “bombshell” psychological report in the latest National Enquirer reveals that “Princess Meghan” is a “ticking time bomb who could explode at any moment, according to royal insiders!” “She’s emotionally tortured!” screams the Enquirer cover, touting “The Secret Psych Report!" Setting aside for a moment that the former Meghan Markle is not a Princess but only a Duchess, one wonders: How did the Enquirer get their hands on such an incendiary top secret report? Simple. They commissioned it.

Might I suggest that it’s not a “secret report” if you’re the ones who order it, pay for it, and are the first to know its results? But it’s “royal insiders” who put the report together, according to the Enquirer’s opening sentence. Except the story makes it clear that no royal insider, let alone any member of the royal family, ever contributed to this report. It’s been compiled "at the Enquirer’s request” by the dubious Institute of BioAccoustic Biology in Ohio, which claims to diagnose patients by analyzing their voice.

That’s right: Duchess Meghan suffers from “huge emotional conflicts, trauma and confusion,” according to a report by analysts who have never met with or spoken to her. But they have listened to recordings of her talking, and they have a “computer algorithm to diagnose health issues and psychological characteristics.” It couldn’t be more high-tech if the Institute shot out laser beams and read her brainwaves – which is why we should all be wearing tin foil hats. Read the rest

Trump and Bezos exiled, Royals riled, and Ted Bundy’s child, in this week’s dubious tabloids

Is the National Enquirer running scared? There’s not a mention of either Amazon chief Jeff Bezos or president Donald Trump in this week’s edition. Could it be that the threat of investigation and possible prison time for hacks accused of extortion and blackmail against Bezos and burying sex scandals about Trump have finally silenced the nattering nabobs of negativism? Bezos and The Donald escape lightly this week, but others aren’t so lucky.

Prince Charles “Disowns Harry!” proclaims the Globe cover. Prince Harry reportedly refused Charles’ demand that he divorce wife Meghan, and in the ensuing row Charles raged that DNA tests have proven he’s not Harry’s father. Which would explain why Charles allegedly said: “You’re a common-born bastard.” Aren’t we all? The odds that this conversation actually happened? Infinitesimally small. The odds that the Globe has a source inside Kensington Palace revealing this private conversation? Even smaller.

The Globe claims that serial killer Ted Bundy’s daughter has been "found hiding in Britain" under an assumed name. No, it’s not “Meghan Markle.” And the woman their reporter approached said: “I’m sorry, I’m not the person you’re looking for.” Sounds like an admission of guilt if there ever was one.

“Scientology Leader’s Missing Wife Found After 13 Years!” declares the Enquirer cover, though the headline above the inside spread is far less confident, asking: “Is This Shelly Miscavige?” It’s definitely a photograph of a dark-haired woman, reportedly seen disembarking a Scientology cruise ship and heading to Florida, which as we all know is a state where Scientologists have been known to live. Read the rest

Wacko Jacko “Perv” proof, Queen shafts Prince Charles, and Angie “anorexic” (again) in this week’s fact-challenged tabloids

You can’t argue with the facts, and the fact is, this week’s tabloids don’t have many of them.

“Wacko Jacko Flunks Pedophile Lie Test!” reports the National Enquirer. No, there isn’t such a thing as a pedophile lie test. The Enquirer obtained video of Jacko’s deposition in a 1996 child molestation inquiry, and had a “lie detection expert” analyze the singer’s voice stress. “He’s just spouting lies,” concludes the analyst. Science at its best.

“Proof Wacko Jacko Was Twisted Perv!” proclaims the Globe, which coincidentally also obtained video of Jacko’s 1996 deposition, and had a “renowned body language expert” analyze the singer’s movements. “His high, false laughter is a cover for lying,” declares the analyst. You gotta love science.

"William & Kate Named King & Queen!” screams the Enquirer cover, declaring: “Queen Gives Up Throne." No, she hasn’t. The Act of Settlement of 1701 makes the monarch’s successor the next Protestant in line to the throne, no matter what the Queen declares or who she names as her heir to the crown. Prince Charles could choose to abdicate once his mother dies, but the Queen can’t declare William king without an act of Parliament to change existing succession laws.

It’s always interesting to get the intelligent American perspective on the British Royal Family, and the National Examiner provides that with its exclusive report on Prince Charles’ wife: “Craggy Camilla’s $100,000 facelift!” It’s an exclusive because the massed ranks of the British Royal press corps somehow failed to notice that Camilla had a full facelift, liposuction, and her teeth capped. Read the rest

Queen in drunken brawl, Prince Harry’s hell, and Meghan Markle’s secrets, in this week’s dubious Royal tabloids

The world’s longest-running soap opera, otherwise known as the British Royal Family, takes some shocking plot twists in this week’s dramatic though fact-challenged tabloids.

“Drunken Camilla’s Brawl With Queen!” screams the Globe, complete with a photo of Her Majesty with a “bloody eye wound.” “Raging Camilla” attacked the Queen, “threw a glass of red wine in her face and ripped a treasured pearl necklace from Her Majesty’s throat” before Prince Charles dragged her off, the rag reports. “Crazy drunk Camilla snaps as insults fly,” claims the tabloid, which has a storied history of quoting verbatim from private conversations among the Royals, thanks to a series of well-hidden listening devices – or possibly an over-active editorial imagination. When they make the TV movie the Queen will doubtless played by Joan Collins, and Camilla by Linda Evans. Expect a cat-fight in the Royal lily pond.

Is it unsporting to note that the photo of the bloodied monarch at Scotland’s Balmoral Castle was actually taken on November 2, 2016, at the launch of Prince Andrew’s Pitch@Palace Event in London? Surely only a cad would point out that the Queen’s photo has been flipped, and the burst blood vessel in her left eye seen in the Globe was actually in her right eye two years ago? I wouldn’t stoop so low.

Prince Harry’s months-old marriage to Meghan Markle dominates the National Enquirer under the headline: “Harry Confesses to William: ‘It’s Hell at Home! . . . This was the biggest mistake of my life!’” A “distraught” Harry “begged his big brother, Prince William, for advice.” My advice: Stop reading the tabloids. Read the rest

Hoover killed JFK, RFK & MLK, Brad Pitt’s private hell, and Mick Jagger’s mental disorder, in this week’s dubious tabloids

Reality packed its bags, cancelled the mail, put its dog in a kennel and boarded a plane to take a long flight as far away as possible from this week’s tabloids.

Former FBI chief "Hoover Ordered Kennedys & MLK Murdered!” screams the National Enquirer front page, promising “Explosive PROOF That Will Change History.” Don’t rewrite the history books yet. Their “proof” is a memo from FBI archives in which J. Edgar Hoover wrote of his dislike for civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Hardly a smoking gun, and about as new as the Gutenberg Bible. Why doesn’t the Enquirer answer the really hard question: Did Hoover kill JFK, RFK and MLK because he hated acronyms?

“Prince Philip, 97, DIED & Came Back to Life!” in his recent car crash, proclaims the Globe cover. The Queen’s consort allegedly died before the accident, and the impact restarted his heart. The Globe presumably knows this because the tabloid has the Prince wired to an EKG at all times, transmitting real-time info to its reporting team, trained cardiologists every one of them. That would explain why Prince Philip was taken to the hospital and released the same day, because that’s standard medical procedure for someone who just died and was brought back to life.

"Robert Wagner blocks bid to exhume Natalie!” reports the Enquirer. It’s hardly shocking that Hollywood veteran Wagner might not want wife Natalie Wood's remains disturbed, but he doesn’t have a say in the matter – Wood’s exhumation could be ordered by the Los Angeles County Coroner, the LAPD or the Sheriff’s Department regardless of what Wagner thinks. Read the rest

Glenn Miller’s death plane, Robert Durst’s cannibal appetites, and exploding heads in this week’s dubious tabloids

There are trace elements of facts in many of this week’s tabloids stories, but that hasn’t stopped the rags’ alchemists from spinning gold out of these barely-detectable sub-atomic particles. Read the rest

The 'most powerful man in politics,' demonized in this week’s dubious tabloids

If you roll up a copy of this week’s Globe tabloid into the shape of a seashell and hold it to your ear, you can hear the sound of President Trump screaming. Just because they’re packed with fact-challenged celebrity gossip doesn’t mean that the tabloids can’t give us insight into American politics. President Trump has long used the National Enquirer and Globe as mouthpieces for his thoughts, and this week it appears that trend continues.

Just because Globe and National Enquirer chief David Pecker has been granted immunity by Robert Mueller’s investigation into former Trump attorney Michael Cohen in exchange for spilling the beans about covering up scandals it uncovered on the president, that apparently doesn’t mean the magazine has ceased in its slavish devotion to the man who believes that cold hamburgers are an appropriate breakfast (or lunch) of champions. Which is why it’s illuminating to see this week’s Globe effectively demonize conservative talk radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh for almost single-handedly helping to “shut down the government.”

Forget President Trump’s order to close down the government, the Democrats’ inability to find a compromise that doesn’t involve building a wall along the border with Mexico, and the Republicans’ refusal to stand up to Trump. As far as the Globe is concerned, it wants its readers to know that Limbaugh, dubbed on its front page the “Most Powerful Man in Politics” – is the one most responsible for the shutdown, thanks to his repeated radio attacks on immigrants.

“He demanded GOP legislators and the White House refuse to support any funding bill to keep federal agencies operating unless the legislation financed building the wall,” reports the Globe. Read the rest

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