MANILA, Philippines – From covering the 2022 Philippine elections to translating fact-checks in local languages and coming up with videos debunking false claims, Rappler Movers produced creative content and campaigns to combat online disinformation and boost voices from communities in the regions.
Highlighting the need for more truth-tellers especially in the just-concluded May elections, Rappler’s civic engagement arm MovePH organized the #PHVote Movers Summit and trained at least 39 Movers to cover the polls in their respective communities.
Movers took various initiatives to debunk false information and contribute to #FactsFirstPH, a first-of-a-kind coalition that aims to help make facts spread faster and hold perpetrators of online disinformation accountable.
Christian Bohol, a lead Mover from Tarlac, said they saw the need for more people to help quash dubious claims, and to engage their network of friends on fact-checking and the many misconceptions about it.
Bohol’s team of three organized a workshop, taking off from best practices from the #FactsFirstPH initiative. He said that if more people stage similar efforts in the future, this would be a big help in bringing the fight against lies to underprivileged sectors.
“Disinformation plays a big factor in the results of the election and we need to hold the perpetrators of disinformation accountable… We need to have more integration with the local communities, with rural communities where factual information might not easily reach them,” he said in a mix of Filipino and English.
Aside from holding conversations about fact-checking, Movers were also behind creative executions that debunked false information in formats that were more accessible to more sectors and ages.
Movers from the #FactsFirstPH unit, for instance, created a series of short videos called “Mare, check!” where they show viewers why a certain viral claim is false or misleading.
With their videos gaining thousands of reactions and views on Facebook, Dominic Gutoman, Rappler Mover and one of the members who helped create the “Mare, check!” series, shared how the public’s reaction towards their team’s efforts motivates him to become more involved in this advocacy. (READ: MANIPULADONG VIDEO: Nagbanta ng gulo si Putin sa Filipinas kung manalo si Robredo sa halalan)
“When our works get published, you will see the comments and see how saturated our platforms are with troll armies… If I weren’t equipped with the necessary skills and principles, I think at first I would be defeatist because it seems like there’s no sense to what we’re doing. But I saw that it provoked people to confront the truth,” Gutoman said in a mix of Filipino and English.
Chan Clerigo, a Rappler Mover in Camarines Sur who translated some of Rappler’s fact-checks in Bicolano, said that these kinds of initiatives help share verified information about candidates and the elections, which in turn can “lead to informed choices.”
This was echoed by Andrea Pefianco, Joey Baldonado, and Mariane Cagalawan, who are all Movers from the Visayas, as they underscored the role of citizen journalists in putting regional stories in the mainstream media space. This is especially important especially following the shutdown of ABS-CBN and several local papers in the provinces.
Pefianco noted how regional journalists and citizen journalists who live in the area they’re reporting on can help offer perspectives and context that others may miss.
“We are always overshadowed by big stories in Luzon,” Pefianco said in Hiligaynon. “It’s important that [citizen journalists and journalists] here in Visayas are the ones who will look for stories, who can relate with our peers, who can write stories which evoke a sense of belongingness among the masses…Especially here in Antique where mainstream media usually doesn’t reach us but where there are a lot of stories,” she added.
Braving disinfo, media distrust
But the battle for truth hasn’t been easy.
For Pampanga Lead Mover Allena Juguilon, the added challenge of debunking disinformation on social media made the coverage of the 2022 elections much more different than the midterm elections in 2019. “We are already at this point that even if it is satire, we will fact-check it because it spreads disinformation.”
“The political climate is very different. In the 2019 election coverage, there is no aspect of historical revisionism [unlike this year] and we were just hoping back then that we would put leaders who were not plunderers and corrupt,” Juguilon said in a mix of Filipino and English.
“What happened in this election [compels] us to be more creative in communicating facts,” Juguilon said, adding that disinformation festered “because people developed innovative ways to communicate their lies.”
“We have to partner it with different approaches like organizing. We need to further develop it and maintain it in the coming years,” Gutoman said.
Covering in the provinces is also difficult especially when most public records are not yet available online. This has been a handicap in data gathering during the numerous lockdowns at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Stephen Esic, a Rappler Mover in Zamboanga del Sur since 2017 and now the Lead of a group of citizen journalists in Mindanao, shared how this challenge prompted him to reach out to other media practitioners in his locality just so he can verify the information at hand and deliver truthful news to his area.
Joining Rappler’s poll coverage for the first time, Rappler Movers based in Bulacan Jezreel Ines and Alex Culla both had a baptism of fire after facing intimidation while doing their duties as citizen journalists.
When Ines took pictures of people pleading for an extension of voting hours in Muzon Pabahay Elementary School, San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, a police officer asked for his smartphone and deleted a photo that showed a commotion between the marshals and voters. Thanks to a smartphone feature, he was able to retrieve the deleted photo.
During her coverage in Barasoain Memorial Integrated School, Malolos City, Culla was gathering reports from people who complained about the inaccurate implementation of voting guidelines when an election support staff approached and yelled at her. The staff accused Culla of being one-sided with her report, but the latter clarified that she was about to reach out to the election officers until she was confronted.
“The treatment against journalists, particularly to us citizen journalists, is daunting. If the members of the media are already experiencing this kind of intimidation, I can imagine the worst for the ordinary citizens,” Culla lamented in Filipino.
One in this fight
With the alarming spread of disinformation and the apparent hate towards journalists, Movers pointed out how everyone has a role to play in helping our online spaces be cleaner, in being more discerning of the content they consume, and in appreciating verified reports and sources.
For Antique-based mover Mariane Cagalawan, in this current political climate where press freedom is being suppressed, it’s time to branch out and encourage people to help amplify the voices of the masses.
“Be grounded on the idea that what you’re doing is for the people and it will really embolden you to keep writing stories,” Cagalawan told Rappler.
Cagalawan had written a story in May focused on residents of Aningalan, an isolated barangay in San Remigio town, who struggle to stay updated on elections given their lack of access to internet or cellular communications.
After her story was published, Cagalawan said supporters of national candidates made an effort to visit the community.
“After the article got published, that’s when I felt very satisfied because Doctors for Leni here in Antique really went to help. They printed brochures explaining things about Leni-Kiko. And what’s nice about this is they also included other national candidates because I told them that information rarely reaches them, so they also did a voter’s education [sharing] even BBM, Pacquiao. They brought videos and played them on the TV,” she said in a mix of Filipino and English.
With president-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. known to impose tough restrictions on journalists, Rappler Mover Niña Diño pointed out that journalists must stand resolute as they are needed to help Filipinos make sense of issues. (READ: ‘Something new to the table’: First-time voters share what their vote means)
“[Journalists] have the power to be the voice of Filipinos, to raise to the consciousness of the government what the Filipinos want, what they are struggling with, and what they want for their future.” Diño said. – Rappler.com
Audrey Dayata is a Rappler volunteer from the University of the Philippines Visayas. She is currently in her third year pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science.
Jose Orlando Polon is a Rappler intern from De La Salle Lipa. He is a senior taking up Bachelor of Arts in Communication, Major in Socio-Cultural and Behavioral Communication.