The Imposters Among Us

Using the game Among Us to teach students about critical thinking both online and offline.

There is an impostor among us. In the new online multiplayer game Among Us teams of astronauts, called Crewmates, are tasked with unmasking a lethal impostor aboard their spaceship. The way that game works is that the impostor looks and acts very much like the other Crewmates and can be difficult to ferret out. However, to evade detection the impostor has to be discreet about how they take out each of their fellow players one-by-one.

Among Us is at heart a cooperative game. Players communicate through a chat window, and any Crewmate can call an emergency meeting at any point. If the players know the signs of an impostor, they can usually triangulate which of their fellow players is the bad actor. However, players new to the game might find that identifying an accomplished impostor can be a difficult task.

My 8th grade students are currently smitten with this game, and I can see why. Similar to the age-old Mafia or Werewolf party games, it is fun to role-play as the impostor as well as hunt one down. When one of my 8th grade sections pleaded with me to create a lesson based on Among Us, I was initially a bit stumped. I realized they just wanted an excuse to play the game in school, but didn’t have a solid lesson in mind. Then it occurred to me that the impostor in Among Us is an apt analogy for something rather important: the current state of internet disinformation.

Before the internet transitioned from a place for academics, hobbyists, and computer scientists to an open digital town square, valid information on the internet was easier to spot and identify. Large government-funded science organizations like NASA and the NSF had a large presence on the burgeoning platform. Newspapers and magazines that had been in print for decades openly and frequently posted content that had been researched and fact-checked.

The landscape now is quite different. Today the multitude of information sources and social media posts makes verifying the quality of information quite difficult for a trained adult, let alone for a teenager. Being more impressionable, teenagers accept the veracity of online data more easily and practice less skepticism online.

The analogy I use with my students is that it is like identifying junk food in the supermarket. Because corporations hide unhealthy ingredients in the small print and make bold health claims on the packaging in large print, making smart choices in the supermarket is hard for young people to do. Having the guidance of an adult helps, but online many teenagers are left to fend for themselves in an overwhelming marketplace of political ideas, claims, and propaganda.

So like Among Us, the goal when online is to identify those around us that are participating in good faith and the impostors who seek to propagate misleading information. After playing Among Us, I introduced the concept of Astroturfing to my students. Astroturfing is when an organization uses social media bots or intermediaries to push an agenda while also hiding the true source of the campaign. Since we have just had an election, the students had many examples of getting bombarded with information from dubious sources. One student admitted that she felt overwhelmed by social media and had no idea where to even begin.

One organization that is helping to watchdog the impostors is the Project on Computational Propaganda at the Oxford Internet Institute. Since 2012, they have investigated how bots, algorithms, and automation have influenced political discourse online. They have five criteria for identifying “Junk News”: Professionalism, Style, Credibility, Bias, and Counterfeit. Any news source that meets even three of the criteria should be treated much like junk food at the supermarket – good at promoting short-term feelings but lacking in any meaningful nutrition.

It is a natural process for teenagers to develop an identity and try to make sense of their world. In an era where social media has as many “influencers” as it does credible sources, it is extremely important for young people to have a strong set of critical thinking skills to find the impostors. I encouraged my students to use the Junk News criteria and to continue to communicate with each other about the claims they read about on the internet. Just as in the game, students are stronger together than they are isolated. When it comes to information in the 21st century, we (or I should say most of us) are all in this together.

Learn More

Among Us

Among Us on Steam

How to play Among Us

Potential Imposter websites

Imposter Websites are among us

How to spot online imposters

What is astroturfing

What is astroturfing in politics?

Oxford Computational Propaganda Project

Misinformation and the Corona Virus

Spotting Fake News

Identifying fake news


  • Tim McGuigan

    Tim McGuigan teaches middle school Computer Science and Robotics and is the Farrell Chair for Innovation at Shady Side Academy.

Also In The April 2021 Issue

Are you an avid bird watcher and/or interested in nature conservation? Then the ebird app may be perfect for you!

Learn how you can trace the origins of pixel art all the way back to the mid-1800s!

Learn how to use conditional statements to generate different emojis!

Quantum experiments, ripples and particle waves! Get ready to learn more about the weird world of quantum physics!

No need to douse your computer in holy water, these daemons are friendly!

Learn how Limor Fried turned her tinkering hobby into a multi-million dollar company!

What is a qbit and how can it potentially change the world? Find out as we explore quantum computing!

An interview with the creator of the small internet community!

Complete your at-home art museum experience by creating a tour!

Class is back in session and this time we will be learning the basics of soldering!

Learn how our ancestors calculated complex problems prior to modern computing technology!

Interesting stories about computer science, software programming, and technology for April 2021.

Links from the bottom of all the April 2021 articles, collected in one place for you to print, share, or bookmark.

Interested but not ready to subscribe? Sign-up for our free monthly email newsletter with curated site content and a new issue email announcement that we send every two months.

No, thanks!