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Al Jazeera Launches Investigative Journalism in Game Format

In the run up to its 10th anniversary this November, Al Jazeera English today announced the launch of a new interactive mobile web-based app #Hacked: Syria’s Electronic Armies, which takes the user deep inside the country’s cyber war, a conflict that has proven it can be just as deadly as the ground war. The project is based on a People & Power documentary of the same name by senior Al Jazeera correspondent, Juliana Ruhfus, but presents the film’s investigative journalism in a game format. 

In #Hacked: Syria’s Electronic Armies the user is tasked with collecting as much information as possible in a limited amount of time by contacting activists, hackers and coders all of whom Ruhfus encountered during the making of the film. Players face a number of decisions, including whether or not they should pay hackers for vital information, when they should go undercover online and whether they will allow interviewees to disguise their identity to keep them safe. Most crucially, however, the user must investigate without being hacked him or herself. From being tricked into clicking infected links to blackmail attempts – all play hacks are based on real hacks.

Juliana Rufhus.

“Whilst recreating the world of an investigative journalist is natural for me, navigating the rules and ethics of journalism in a game format requires an entirely new skill set,” Ruhfus says. For her, it is essential to ensure that users are constantly reminded that they are dealing with fact and not fiction and that the in-game experience is 100% strict journalism, “Every hack in the app is based on a real hack that has taken place. Texts from hackers have been taken from court documents. The social engineering we use to deceive you in the simulated hacks, how we’re creating an avatar that’s enticing you to click on something, is exactly what happened during Syria’s cyberwar.

“The gamification and interactive elements of projects like #Hacked give the user the experience of being immersed in a news story,” Ruhfus continues. “Having a specific task to complete often leads them to engage emotionally and intellectually with the topic, while they gain unique perspective on the news story we are presenting through an interactive experience.”

Using a combination of original documentary footage, game design and links to outside resources, the interactive app teaches players how to protect themselves from hackers, and get real-time updates on the Syrian War. The experience is a web app that doesn’t require downloading and can be played on computers but is designed specifically for mobile phones. The technology behind the experience is a platform called Conducttr which allows multi-channel interactive projects to be collaboratively built quickly and easily. 

Check out #Hacked here.