Fighting disinformation

Journalists emphasize need for ‘person-to-person’ approach in fact checking

Paolo Cootauco

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Journalists emphasize need for ‘person-to-person’ approach in fact checking
Journalists emphasize the need to boost media literacy toward peers to help combat disinformation in both online and offline spaces

MANILA, Philippines – As disinformation continues to pervade social media platforms, journalists called on Filipinos to engage with families and peers in practicing fact-checking and being responsible with the content they consume and post online.

During the launch of MovePH’s media and information literacy series on January 20, Rappler’s head of digital services Gemma Mendoza pointed out how emotions play a big role in spreading hate and lies online. She emphasized that communities can make a bigger contribution to disseminating the truth, working hand-in-hand with journalists in the movement through collaborations and personal engagements. 

“It is really a person-to-person approach, we need to make them repetitively believe facts until they are okay with it. Sometimes, they may not accept it, it is good to try as we need to be patient and understand that there is a system of disinformation,” MovePH head Samantha Bagayas added. 

Rappler CEO Maria Ressa pointed out that it’s difficult to change what people think but we can still try to correct false information and do so with empathy, respect and kindness, especially when dealing with friends and family.

Ressa added that people must approach these hard conversations with patience.

“If there is a fight within your family, you need to fight by love. That’s what I learned. If you fight hate with hate, we only divide. If it’s family, love them to truth and facts. Because they will win on that,” Ressa said. 

Why this is important

The problem of disinformation now needs both a personal and online approach. During the event, Ressa asserted that there is now a ”person-to-person battle with integrity and facts. That’s why we need to battle for facts.”

Filipinos are reported to be social media savvy. This has become more prevalent during the pandemic, with Mendoza mentioning that Facebook became the latest news source of most Filipinos compared to newspapers. 

She added how social media had boosted its power and became more irresistible and addictive by design, causing Filipinos to spend numerous hours on social media. Since anyone can be a publisher online, Mendoza emphasized that the internet can be utilized as an outlet of hate and anger, causing wide information disorder and loss of trust in news. 

“It is essential that we need to speak truth, even if harassments are prevalent online. We need to speak truth to power because if not, abuses will continue,” Mendoza said.

Ressa warned that if no changes will be made, democracy will eventually fail and false information peddlers will never be taken into account. She especially mentioned how disinformation largely impacted the integrity of the recent 2022 elections, where false information and propaganda influenced the perception of Filipinos–hindering them from making informed decisions.  

“In this year and next year by 2024, if there is no change in technology and civic engagements, democracy falls off the cliff. More illiberal leaders will be democratically elected and they will not crumble institutions within, they [will] already brew autocracy, pivoting to fascism,” Ressa added. 

Bagayas pointed out that it is important to recognize that the things we find and post online have real-life repercussions and impacts. Therefore media literacy needs to be taught and understood in both online and offline spaces.

What can we do

Bagayas and Mendoza concluded that in order to make person-to-person approaches possible, ordinary citizens should do their part in spreading facts – be it producing fact-checks, joining groups advocating for truth, or just simply by sharing accurate information within our personal networks, boosting media literacy can be one of the solutions to fight disinformation. 

One way to support this is by joining the #FactsFirstPH initiative, a one-of-a-kind anti-disinformation initiative consisting of civil society groups, academic institutions, media newsrooms, among others debunking online falsehoods, amplifying truth faster, holding perpetrators accountable, and advocating literacy. 

“Fact-checking is like playing a  ‘whack-a-mole,’ especially when there are so many lies…. If you spark anger and hate, you get a wider distribution. When you inspire, it also gives a large distribution like what we learned in #FactsFirstPH,” Ressa said.

“Battling for truth isn’t limited to a journalist job and the media company. It is important to realize our role, working in communities. We are more connected and being part of the movement, that’s why it is important,” Mendoza added. 

The five-part media and information literacy series aims to bring together teachers, students, and leaders in their respective sectors who will learn – and talk about – how to be critical and discerning online. This is launched by the #FactsFirstPH initiative, through Rappler’s civic engagement arm MovePH, along with 25 participating schools and organizations in the Philippines. 

Participants may register to the MIL series here for free.

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