Written by philippines

Words by Angel Martinez
Edited by Jyska Kuan Ken
Art by Andie Poblete

“When online platforms start turning into echo chambers, it becomes impossible for those who believe in fake news to correct their stances..”

Unbeknownst to most, we are currently battling two pandemics: one that requires us to stay indoors unless completely necessary, arm ourselves with face shields and disinfectants, and postpone all social gatherings; and another that orders us to throw all caution to the wind and simply eat bananas and gargle salt water. Both pose a huge risk to society, but the latter remains more dangerous as it cannot be cured with a vaccine.

Our country’s social media landscape has never been a stranger to fake news, and its ubiquity has only been solidified this quarantine period. With data and statistics becoming more incomprehensible, the common Filipino sees no other option but to turn to inaccurate sources – and we are no exception. We may think that this concern is beneath us – that we are critical of all the information we consume – when in reality, we are not safe from believing and spreading the two main types of false claims.

The first of which is disinformation: the deliberate circulation of inaccurate and false information, normally with the malicious intent to deceive and even harm others. Now that we live in a post-truth era, a bulk of social media users don’t care if a news item is true or not, so long as it furthers their own agenda or reiterates their current sentiments. Other times, they get sidetracked by a desire to secure new followers or go viral. When online platforms start turning into echo chambers, it becomes impossible for those who believe in fake news to correct their stances.

In contrast, misinformation is disseminated by people who seek out news that will relieve them of confusion and lack of clarity. “They share [what they find] because they probably want to help others in the same situation, not knowing that what they are [spreading] is not vetted or proven,” says Marlon Nombrado, co-founder of Out of the Box, an initiative which seeks to improve the media and data literacy of the youth. Posts that cover rather unbelievable stories are likely to produce feelings so strong, they elicit an almost reflexive reaction from those who see it. If they happen to come with high engagement metrics – say thousands of likes, shares, and comments – these news items have the power to alter our perception and redefine what we know is true.

At this rate, a staggering 86% of us Filipinos believe fake news due to both internal and external forces. To lower this statistic, we must do our part by being conscious and critical consumers of information. According to an article by The Verge, if news seem too good to be true, they almost always demand closer inspection, especially for science stories. Nuanced research tends to get summed up in misleading or exaggerated ways, especially if the person reporting is not necessarily an expert on the topic. But that’s not to say that stories which feel intuitively right can’t be twisted to fit popular yet misleading narratives.

It’s best to start by checking the credibility and authenticity of the source: whether the one who posted was the real deal, or merely a bot or impersonator. This is where the handy blue check of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram come in. Reliable publications and news outlets usually go through several rounds of fact-checking and corroboration with other agencies. 

An example of which is the COVID-19 dashboard spearheaded by UN SDSN Youth – Philippines. This effort seeks to act as a comprehensive source for all things related to the current pandemic. In a recent webinar they launched in collaboration with makesense, Jazmin Jabines, their lead for data presentation, explained the process flow they follow to ensure multi-level quality assurance. “We have data gatherers who collate articles following a certain set of guidelines that we have set to ensure they come from reputable sources. They then pass it down to data churners, who act as a second line of defense to verify the accuracy of what we’re presenting. We also have departments of data presenters that either republish existing articles, and even make features of their own.”

Another factor worth considering is when and where exactly this article was published, and which audience it’s supposed to cater to. Because the Internet provides us instant access to news from everywhere in the world, we risk being victimized by the “context collapse” phenomenon, where every story sounds like it’s happening right now, wherever we may be. How many times have we thought that classes were suspended because of a national holiday or typhoon that happened in 2013? The tone of the person who posted is also worth taking note of, because Internet users may satirize situations or talk about topics sarcastically, which others might find difficult to catch. It’s best to cross-check with other firsthand sources (like interviews and press releases), and online fact-checking services such as Snopes or Full Fact.

We should also be open to the possibility of changing our opinion once we are presented with sufficient reason, especially if we’re talking about very current, evolving issues. Some of us are hesitant to do this because we see changing our minds as a sign of indecisiveness. In reality, this reveals that we are not ruled by pride – we are self-aware and even mature enough to learn from others and own up to our mistakes. 

“Some of us are hesitant to do [change our mind] because we see changing our minds as a sign of indecisiveness. In reality, this reveals that we are not ruled by pride – we are self-aware and even mature enough to learn from others and own up to our mistakes.”

Of course, there will be non-negotiables: for instance, it will never be right to strip away someone’s fundamental human rights on the sole basis of their skin color, and that will never be up for debate. But for issues where our stand can fall within a spectrum, it would be great to engage in productive discourse with others to get multiple perspectives on the issue. Take note of the operative word productive: there are several dead-end discussions that are not worth wasting energy on, such as those with trolls and close-minded people. 

Individual action is clearly not enough, and it is our duty to assist in improving others’ data literacy and awareness as well. “We badly need social institutions that could serve as platforms for dialogue in our societies today, and we need influential individuals that could champion such efforts,” claims Nombrado. Though this may sound like a task fit for local government officials and even world leaders, we can do our part by replicating this environment in the comfort of our own homes or within our own circle of friends. Correcting instead of cancelling, especially if they had no intention of wreaking havoc, can go a long way in improving and refining how one critically consumes media.

Sadly, our battle against fake news will outlive COVID-19 (and any other virus) by a long shot. Knowing this, we must equip ourselves with the tricks and tools needed to slay this opponent. It won’t be an easy task: we could make significant progress only to experience disheartening setbacks once again. But we cannot achieve national progress without simply knowing what is worth fighting for, and how to do it right.

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Angel resides in Quezon City, Philippines and is currently a Sensereporter Intern for Makesense Philippines. Her role focuses on creating content that aims to shed a light on pressing social issues across Asia. Angel is an advocate for many causes but feels particularly passionate about mental health and community empowerment through education and livelihood.

Jyska is a freelance writer who considers both Metro Manila and Iloilo City her home. She loves writing about mental health, grit, technology, and business development. If you ask her about Korean variety shows, improv theater, or her work in the development sector, be prepared to hear an hour-long emotional speech — complete with graphs and figures.ren’s welfare and women’s rights.

Andie was born and raised in Metro Manila, Philippines, and is currently a Sensereporter for Makesense Asia. She loves everything about education — from learning to teaching, and the friendships formed in between. She hopes to bring social impact through art and design, and be the voice her younger self needed to hear.