Why worry about Filipinos online being 'most ignorant'?

MANILA, Philippines – Suicide rates. Number of teenage births. Smartphone owners in the Philippines. Even belief in Heaven, Hell, and God. 

These were only some of the things Filipinos online were wrong about, according to Ipsos’ Perils of Perception 2017 survey and its Misperceptions Index. (READ: Filipinos are 3rd most ignorant of key issues – report)

The report aimed to look at the gap between people’s perceptions and reality, across a wide range of issues from health to social media use, to faith.

Out of 38 countries surveyed in the report, the Philippines was ranked the 3rd “most wrong” country in their perceptions. The Philippines ranked behind only South Africa and Brazil. 

But here’s what’s most bothersome.

Despite their perceptions being among the least accurate, Filipinos were also among the most confident in their answers. 33% of the Filipinos who took the survey said they were confident in all of their answers.

The Philippines was among the top 3 most confident in their wrong answers, behind only India and Serbia.

The finding is disturbing and may provide an explanation to two trends persistent in the Philippines: the toxicity of the social media environment, and why fake news is spread quickly.

Perceptions are not reality 

While other countries may be ignorant about certain issues, it is only the Philippines that ranked among the top 3 with the most misperceptions, and the top 3 that are most confident in their inaccurate answers.

The findings of the survey could perhaps explain the increasingly toxic conversations taking place in social media channels in the Philippines: Filipinos could be more aggressive than others in defending their viewpoints – which they believe are factual, even when they often aren't.

In the Philippines, a paper by Maria Corinna Escartin, which looks at trolling on social media, said trolls in the country are aggressive against netizens who post what they perceive to be a “stupid” idea – that is, one they disagree with or think is wrong.

Escartin’s study on the Filipino troll surveyed respondents “belonging to the middle class, with relatively high levels of educational attainment.”

This demographic was also the same one surveyed in the Perils of Perception study. 

It is also clear from our 'Misperceptions Index' that the countries who tend to do worst have relatively low internet penetrations: given this is an online study, this will reflect the fact that this more middle class and connected population think the rest of their countries are more like them than they really are,” said Ipsos Public Affairs Managing Director Bobby Duffy.

It is this population – that tends to have wrong perceptions, and assumes it is representative of most of the country – that is also online and engages in social media conversations.

The survey results also backed this. Two topics Filipinos wrongly perceived were the extent of smartphone and social media penetration, which explains why many Filipino netizens think that what they see online and on social media, represents reality.

Filipinos estimated that out of every 100 people in the Philippines, 86 owned smartphones. The reality was far less at 23.

The same trend was seen with Facebook. Filipinos guessed that 87 out of every 100 Filipinos aged 13 and above had a Facebook account when the actual number was 38. 

The actual numbers proved that social media conversations are not accurate representations of the majority's opinions, despite what many may think.

Impact on fake news

This tendency to be so sure of false perceptions, could also be one reason why fake news is spread quickly online in the Philippines. 

The Ipsos study said there are multiple reasons for misperceptions, “from our struggle with maths and proportions, to media and political coverage of issues, to social psychology explanations of our mental shortcuts or biases.”

“But in particular, we know from previous studies that this is partly because we overestimate what we worry about: the more we see coverage of an issue, the more prevalent we think it is, especially if that coverage is frightening or threatening.”

Based on the results of the study, this is particularly true for Filipinos.

This may explain why, when government officials make false claims widely reported on by media, it is generally accepted as true by many netizens – even when facts prove otherwise.

An example is the extent of the Philippines' drug problem.

President Rodrigo Duterte has claimed that there are 4 million drug addicts in the country, which has been taken as fact by netizens in defending the bloody drug war.

The Dangerous Drugs Board, however, pegged the number at only 1.8 million. The board did not classify them as addicts, but only drug users in general.

The Ipsos study said that on most issues, “things are not as bad as people perceive them to be.”

“Our brains process negative information differently – it sticks with us and affects how we see realities,” said Duffy.

Duffy added that wrong perceptions could have adverse effects on how people make decisions, since they are not based on facts. Because of this, it is even more crucial that information shared with the public is accurate and factual.

The study’s findings also reiterated the need for Filipino netizens to constantly fact check their perceptions and information they receive, before sharing and spreading them online.

Other wrong perceptions

What issues in particular were wrongly perceived by Filipinos, according to the survey?

Most Filipinos in the survey believed there were more deaths caused by terrorist attacks in the 15-year period after the September 11th attacks compared to the 15-year period before. 49% said yes, 27% said the number was about the same, while only 17% said there were less, when in fact, terrorist deaths in the Philippines went down from 4,322 to 3,468.

Filipinos also overestimated the number of immigrant prisoners in Philippine jail cells. The average guess was 17 out of 100 prisoners were foreigners, when the reality was just 0.4.

On teenage births, Filipinos again overestimated that 40% of girls between 15-19 years old give birth, but the actual number was just 6.3%. 

When it came to whether or not vaccines cause autism in healthy children, most Filipinos appeared  ignorant about the facts. 28% said yes, while 33% said they don’t know, even if that claim has been widely discredited. 

Suicide too was something Filipinos overestimated as a more frequent occurrence than it actually is. Filipinos thought 20 out of 100 deaths of women aged 15 to 24 were caused by suicide, while they thought the number was 22 out of 100 for men of the same age. The actual numbers were only 3.5 and 4.3, respectively. 

About 25% of Filipinos also overestimated the population’s consumption of alcohol, with 25% saying the Philippines is among the top 3 countries in the world that consume the most alcohol per person. But the Philippines does not even crack the top 20, and is ranked the 29th booziest nation in the world.


Ironically, despite the Catholic Church’s massive influence in the country, Filipinos underestimated one statistic: the number of people in the Philippines who believed in Heaven, Hell, and God.

Filipinos estimated that 82 people out of 100 believed in Heaven, 74 out of 100 believed in Hell, and 88 out of 100 believed in God. The numbers were higher: 94 out of 100 believed in Heaven and 85 in Hell. The same number, 88, believed in God.

Among the issues raised, however, the Philippines ranked the most inaccurate about perceptions on diabetes and vehicles owned by the population.

Filipinos guessed that 45% of people aged 20-79 have diabetes in the Philippines, but the reality was it's just 7%.

They also estimated that for every 100 people, 61 own vehicles, but the real number was only 8. – Rappler.com