Nearly all girls and young women – at 95% – in the Philippines said misinformation and disinformation online had a negative effect on them, a new Plan International report found.
The 2021 “Truth Gap” report also said more than half or 54% were extremely or very concerned about false information.
Both misinformation and disinformation are false or misleading information. Misinformation is shared mistakenly, while disinformation is shared deliberately for certain agenda. The latter can also be harmful.
The Philippine figures are higher than the global 87% of 26,000 young women across 26 countries who said they were negatively affected by false information. Those who were extremely or very concerned about it were pegged at 40%.
The false information has affected girls in how they view COVID-19, politics and the elections, and sex and sexual health.
“The spread of false information online is an issue of our times…. It is pervasive and inescapable too. But for the girls and young women learning about the world and their place in it, it can be devastating,” said Mona Mariano, Plan International’s country gender specialist for the Philippines, in the report’s launch on Monday, October 11.
October 11 is also when advocates commemorate the International Day of the Girl (IDG).
Misleading info on COVID-19, stereotypes, politics
As the COVID-19 pandemic brought billions of people across the world under lockdown, people turned to the internet for information. The report found that posts about COVID-19 had the most examples of misinformation and disinformation.
In Plan’s report, 38% girls and young women said they believed what turned out to be a myth or a false claim about COVID-19, while 35% became hesitant to get the vaccine due to misinformation or disinformation.
According to Mariano, young women are often dependent on online information on topics like sex and sexuality, girls rights, and feminism.
“These may not be freely discussed online nor at school. So false information on these topics is especially challenging and has profound consequences on their health, their future, and their ability to engage in civic and political life,” said Mariano.
In a meeting with Rappler, Plan International representatives said stereotypes about women, such as being submissive towards men, also contribute to girls feeling disempowered online.
Around 4 out of 10 respondents in Plan’s report also felt sad, depressed, worried, or anxious because of false information online, and almost a third of respondents felt physically unsafe because of it.
On September 14, the Wall Street Journal reported how Facebook had internal data on their platforms’ harmful effects. They knew that one of three teenage girls said that, when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse. However, Instagram, which is also owned by Facebook, publicly downplays the effects.
“It’s about holding these companies accountable. You need to show this information…because it’s directly affecting all these young girls already,” said Martie Bautista, athlete and IDG 2021 campaign ambassador.
The survey also found that 31% of the respondents said the lies are so rife that they have distrusted election results, while 21% even stopped engaging in politics or current affairs as a result.
According to the report, 32% of girls and young women in the Philippines spend more than 12 hours online, while just 1% spend less than an hour online.
Christine, a 20-year-old respondent in the report, said she uses the internet for at least six hours a day for online classes, socializing, and entertainment. “To not be online is to be disconnected in this day and age,” she said. Christine’s surname was withheld.
Lack of digital literacy
More than half of the girls and young women Plan International surveyed in the Philippines attested to the lack of digital literacy in the country:
- 54% said they were never taught how to identify misinformation or disinformation at school.
- 64% said they were never taught by their parents.
- 66% also said they were never taught by government institutions.
- 77% said they were never taught by social media platforms.
Some social media giants have been taking steps to address false information on their platforms, like Facebook’s fact-checking collaborations, and Twitter and Instagram’s resources for COVID-19 prompted around their apps. However, critics still raise questions on how well these fight the monster that is disinformation. YouTube, for example, does not have clear policies for false information.
Plan International said there needs to be more collaboration among advocates and government agencies to promote digital literacy among the youth. The Department of Education (DepEd) has a curriculum for digital literacy from basic to secondary education, but most of it consists of how to use computers, data processors, and the internet.
There are learning competencies that include digital ethics: plagiarism, protecting personal information and the freedom of speech, protecting from cyberbullying and grooming, and avoiding “negative side effects of excessive screen time and addictive use of digital media.”
There is no specific line item in the DepEd’s curriculum for detecting false or misleading information online. However, these themes may be included in the competency that aims to “critically evaluate digital content.”
“Hindi naman natin puwedeng hayaang kumalat ang kasinungalingan (We cannot allow lies to spread). Lies are lies. And to let them slide only enables the liars, and risks creating a culture where truth-telling is optional,” said Vice President Leni Robredo in a recorded message shown during the Monday launch.
Rappler has its own fact-checking initiative. If you see any false or misleading claims online, send a link and screenshot to firstname.lastname@example.org.