Case study: Go Viral!

How can we fight the deluge of coronavirus misinformation – dubbed an ‘infodemic’ by the WHO – that endangers lives?

Dr Sander van der Linden, Director of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab, came up with a novel approach: an online game, called Go Viral!, that puts players in the shoes of the purveyor of fake pandemic news.

Started with University funding, Go Viral! was primarily supported and backed by the UK Cabinet Office as part of government efforts against fake news during the pandemic. Our Consultancy Services team handled the administrative and contractual details so van der Linden and his colleagues could focus on developing the game. Go Viral! builds on research from Cambridge psychologists which found that giving people a taste of the techniques used to spread fake news on social media increased their ability to identify and disregard misinformation in the future.

The five- to seven-minute game introduces players to the basics of online manipulation in the era of coronavirus. It exposes the most pervasive infodemic tactics: using emotionally charged language to stoke outrage and fear, deploying fake experts to sow doubt, and mining conspiracies for social media ‘likes’.

The latest findings show that a single session of playing a similar game that the research team developed pre-COVID-19, called Bad News, can reduce susceptibility to false information for at least three months. Launched in 2018, Bad News has now been played over a million times. When that many people engage with the game, the researchers argue, this neutralising effect can help to build societal resistance to fake news.

Fake news can travel faster and lodge itself deeper than the truth. Fact-checking is vital, but often it arrives too late, after lies have already spread. We are aiming to pre-emptively debunk, or pre-bunk, misinformation by exposing people to a mild dose of the methods used to disseminate fake news.

Dr Sander Van der Linden, Director, The Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab

By using a simulated environment to show people how misinformation is produced, we can demystify it. The game empowers people with the tools they need to discern fact from fiction.

Dr Jon Roozenbeek, Co-developer, Go Viral! and Researcher, Department of Psychology

Annual Review 2020

The Go Viral! case study is featured in our Annual Review 2020. Learn more about some of the exciting projects we have been working on and our financial performance for 2019-20.

View Annual Review