Fighting disinformation

Advocates emphasize need to make fight vs disinformation more relatable

Samantha Bagayas
Advocates emphasize need to make fight vs disinformation more relatable

PUSHBACK AGAINST DISINFORMATION. Fact-checking advocates share ideas on how media information literacy and fact-checking can be made more relatable and appealing to people.

Rappler video screenshot

Fact-checking advocates suggest delving into different formats and writing more fact-check pieces in local languages to make more people interested in countering disinformation

Do you know how disinformation affects you?

Many have yet to care enough or know about the harms of the spread of false information on social media, according to fact-checking and human rights advocates during the eighth episode of MovePH’s “#CourageON: Tumindig, makialam, kumilos” community show.

The advocates said that there’s a need to make the fight against disinformation more relatable so people are moved to fight it in their own little ways.

Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay pointed out how the negative impact of disinformation can go beyond cyberspace.

Rappler’s research team, for instance, found that the government’s coordinated online propaganda network has focused its attention on red-tagging activists, lumping them with terrorists and accusing them of being front organizations of communist rebels. Palabay said that aside from online attacks, Karapatan members also experienced surveillance and other forms of harassment. 

Michelle Abad, a researcher-writer at Rappler, also shared how disinformation can hamper the work of journalists. She cited one instance where she chatted an overseas Filipino worker to ask for an interview about their experience with voting registration. This chat exchange was then manipulated to make it seem like she had been campaigning for Vice President Leni Robredo.

“It’s very scary, especially now that we’re working remotely. Puwedeng ganito na you’re just doing your job, you’re just chatting somebody, and puwede ka na ma-involve agad sa disinformation (It can be like this where you’re just doing your job and you can be involved in disinformation),” Abad said.

It’s not just activists or journalists that are facing the brunt of disinformation, but also ordinary citizens.

Owenh Toledo, a graduate of Rappler’s fact-checking mentorship program and a fact-check contributor at Rappler, was also a victim of disinformation.

“If you remember the start of COVID-19, when the claim about banana can cure COVID-19 circulated, I shared that post with my family and friends. And later, I found out it was false…. Because of that incident, I started joining fact-checking webinars…. After attending at least five sessions, I asked myself ‘What’s next?’ and then I realized I need to do more since I also fell victim to disinformation,” Toledo said in a mix of Filipino and English.

Given the outpouring of disinformation on social media, Toledo said that fact-checking is a “must-learn skill if you are a digital citizen.”

But how do you make more people care about fact-checking?

Delving into different languages, formats

During the community show, Abad raised the need to emphasize how disinformation is not an “abstract concept” but “something that affects us all.”

Fact-checking advocates said that there’s more that can be done to make media literacy and fact-checking appealing and relatable to more people such as delving into different formats and writing more fact-check pieces in local languages.

“Misinformation really sometimes can be very creative. And that’s why it’s shared so often by people. The format that is used, the language that is used is sometimes one that appeals to a lot of people. Similarly, verified content  also needs to be in formats and languages that are more shareable, more popular that can be accessed by people across different regions, people speaking different languages,” said Shalini Joshi, Meedan Asia Pacific program director.

As many are busy and preoccupied with trying to survive during the pandemic, Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA) program coordinator Bernice Soriano shared they’ve focused their efforts on creating content that can offer quick tips and learnings.

FMA, for instance, had commissioned artists to create comic strips tackling media information literacy. One of them illustrated a story where a friend was caught seemingly engaged in sharing false information online and how their peers dealt with the situation.

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“We’ve been receiving comments also that people have learned from it, they resonate with it, they share it, and that’s also already a good thing because it’s something we’ve been able to successfully teach about something as hard or as big a topic as disinformation and other related themes to that,” Soriano said.

Aside from using creative formats, Joshi emphasized that it’s also important to provide fact-checked content in local languages. This also showcases how important it is for more people, especially those in the provinces, to throw their hat in providing and sharing verified information in their local languages.

“Language continues to be a barrier while fact-checking because sometimes when we are addressing misinformation, sometimes it’s mostly in languages that are spoken by majority people or the more mainstream languages. But there are so many other local languages, and we see misinformation appearing in those languages as well. So being able to address misinformation across different languages and dialects is really important,” Joshi said.

Responding to this challenge, news organizations and civil society groups have been collaborating to add “more voices from the community that can access the work that fact-checkers are doing,” Joshi added.

As a fact-checking contributor based in the provinces, Toledo has also experienced the difficulty of translating and fact-check false claims written in other local languages and dialects. Add to that how not all data and information is readily available or searchable in the provinces, which makes it hard to debunk false information.

Access is also another barrier that fact-checkers and fact-checking advocates will have to deal with to make avenues to be more media literate  accessible and relatable to people in faraway communities.

“I think there’s more that we have to do when it comes to reaching the grassroots because that is a challenge. You can’t make this individual sit and listen to fact-checking methods. We are devising creative ways on how to reach out to them,” said Leslie Manalo, an instructor at the Holy Angel University.

It’s a long, long process

While there are strides to explore more creative formats and present them in local languages, fact-checking advocates said the change will not happen overnight.

Joshi said that social media platforms, for instance, have to fill a huge gap in slowing down the spread of disinformation.

Aside from platforms and other initiatives, people also have a huge role to play in stopping disinformation in their own spheres of influence.

Every time makakuha tayo ng mga friends natin na nag she-share ng false information, siguro lawakan natin ang ating pag-unawa at habaan ang ating pasensya sa kanila kasi dahil hindi rin naman talaga natin mababago yung paniniwala nila agad-agad sa isang upuan o isang webinar,” Toledo said.

(Every time we catch friends who share false information, let’s be compassionate and patient because we cannot expect their beliefs to change immediately because of one encounter or webinar.)

“It’s a long, long, long process but I believe if you care for them, you would always want the best for them,” Toledo added.

Premiered on November 13, the eighth episode of the #CourageON community show gathered journalists, human rights activists, and fact-checking advocates to discuss how people can help push back against disinformation, especially with the nearing 2022 Philippine elections.

The show is organized by Rappler’s civic engagement arm MovePH in partnership with Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom. It is co-presented by Likha Pahinarya, Rizalian Psychological Society, and The Louisian Courier. – Rappler.com

Samantha Bagayas

Samantha Bagayas is a community and civic engagement specialist under MovePH, Rappler's civic engagement arm. Aside from writing stories about movements and civic initiatives, she works with movers and campus journalists across the Philippines to amplify issues affecting their communities.