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October 4, 2016updated 05 Oct 2016 10:20am

Al Jazeera English turns Syrian digital warfare investigation into a computer game

By Dominic Ponsford

Satellite news channel Al Jazeera English has launched a computer-game version of its documentary Syria’s Electronic Armies.

The film by Juliana Ruhfus investigated the extent to which hacking was being used as a tool of war in the Syrian conflict.

Explaining how the web-based app works, Al Jazeera English said: “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.”

The channel sees the app as a way of attracting younger people to news who it says increasingly “shun news websites”. It can be viewed on any computer but is designed for mobile devices.

The app follow a similar interactive investigation called Pirate Fishing.
Al Jazeera correspondent Ruhfus said: “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.

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“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.”

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