Fighting disinformation

Advocates urge organized fight vs disinformation, historical distortion

Marypaul Jostol
Advocates urge organized fight vs disinformation, historical distortion
Information and history advocates urge citizens to continue fact-checking and practice organized resistance to combat historical distortion in the age of false information and networked propaganda

MANILA, Philippines – How can Filipinos collectively uphold transparency in a time when false information is reshaping the truth?

Disinformation and internet propaganda are growing more prevalent in the Philippine landscape than ever before. At present, both are working hand in hand to revise historical accounts. It now seems enormous an issue to tackle following this year’s elections, but information advocates are nonetheless pushing citizens to continue challenging disinformation individually and as a community.

This was the topic of conversation during the episode of MovePH’s ‘#CourageON: What the FACT? The primacy of truth over personal opinions’ on Friday, October 21. 

Information advocates asserted that the primacy of truth is being undermined. With disinformation becoming more rampant, seemingly menial tasks like fact-checking a piece of information before sharing it with others can already go a long way.

“Spreading unverified information, especially exaggerated claims, [causes] unnecessary panic that can harm lives,” Rappler digital forensics researcher Pauline Macaraeg said. 

Opinions may also be based on unverified information, making some of them equally detrimental to society at large. Macaraeg furthered that while opinions are harder to fact-check, it is doable as long as they bear details that can be cross-checked with factual evidence. 

Disinformation today has propelled many pressing matters, one of them being historical distortion. The altering of past narratives to serve a particular person or regime and its interests is hardly a new phenomenon in the local setting, but it is not to say that citizens shouldn’t be wary of its presence.

Ateneo de Manila University assistant professor and Tanggol Kasaysayan member Mike Pante shared how even the most ludicrous, unsupported claims from dubious sources can gain traction if fact-checking isn’t conducted thoroughly or early enough. 

“Misinformation and disinformation architecture is quite complex and it’s able to twist certain things that many of us, especially in the academe, [know] are completely untrue,” Pante added. 

And these things don’t end in social media. What happens on the internet can—and has—spilled over onto real life. In fact, disrupting reality with their efforts is what keeps disinformation architects going. 

Harsh realities

Macaraeg presented the Marcos gold myth to demonstrate where disinformation and historical distortion meet and its effects on the social landscape. The myth, which surmises that the Marcos family own enough gold to save the world from poverty, was planted in 2011 and grew exponentially over the years despite no factual evidence. 

“Those who are spreading this false claim are saying that the gold is for the Filipino people, but the catch is that it will only be distributed once they are united and Marcos’ New Society Movement is reestablished,” Macaraeg elaborated. 

For years the myth was shrugged off as a conspiracy and left unaddressed. Unfortunately, it was slowly amplified by fringe groups, legacy groups and pages, Marcos-Duterte fake history groups, and supporters until such time that it became a public concern. 

“Initially, we thought, ‘do we still need to address this? Is it not clear enough that what they are saying is wrong?’ Apparently not…that led to the perception of reality now being taken as the reality by many important stakeholders,” Pante said in a mix of Filipino and English. 

According to Pante, disinformation like this continues to thrive because it receives validation—not from reputable sources, but the rather dubious ones who are inclined to agree and disseminate them. When the reach is wide enough, it starts to impact public perception. 

“Many of these falsehoods come from social media. They use that to their advantage by claiming that this is the voice of the masses—what these people are saying on YouTube, in TikTok—even if they are not verified by legitimate sources,” he added.

How can we combat historical distortion?

As seen through the Marcos gold myth and other similar claims like the “golden age,” historical distortion entails meticulous planning and constitutes several years of action, a myriad of resources, and a great deal of power. Reversing its effects surely isn’t just one man’s job, nor something that can be done overnight. But it can be combatted through proactive steps.

“Report abuse and dubious claims. Beware of attempts to manipulate. Cross-check details such as names, dates, and incidents, addresses and locations…photos, videos, and the like. Help spread awareness and challenge disinformation at source,” Macaraeg said. 

Moreover, Pante proposed the idea of organized resistance in 2 ways: through bettering informal education, and engaging with others on public and personal levels.

“Education is not limited to what we learn inside the classrooms, in our textbooks, or what a teacher tells us. Take advantage of informal education, such as movies, social media, and more,” Pante said in a mix of Filipino and English.

Public engagement simply means supporting fact-checking efforts and organizations that revolve around similar advocacies. As for personal engagement, he emphasized how small impacts can come a long way through simple discourse with family members and others of close proximity. 

“We need to maximize all the weapons in our arsenal…because we can never fight organized crime individually. We can never defeat it on our own. Organized crime, such as disinformation, has to be combatted using organized resistance,” he added. 

The #CourageON show was organized by MovePH and Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, in partnership with Senior High School – Leadership Development Program, the Arrupe Office for Social Formation, and the Ignatian Spirituality Formation Office of Ateneo de Davao University. – Rappler.com

Marypaul Jostol is a Rappler intern for MovePH. She is a Communication Arts major at De La Salle University.

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