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When You Report Fake News, You Fight a Well-Oiled Web of Deception

Your report counts.
by Pia Regalado
Apr 19, 2022
Photo/s: Shutterstock
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Laboratory analyst Emcee reported fake news on Vice President Leni Robredo's daughter, Aika, believing it's her contribution to fighting misinformation online that has become more widespread during the elections and saving people like herself from being "brainwashed".

Reporting is one of many tools to fight fake news, according to election watchdog LENTE and media analysts. For Emcee, seeing through misinformation helped convert her into a Robredo supporter from being a self-confessed basher of the presidential candidate, who is the number one target of fake news purveyors.

"It's very important na i-report natin ang mga fake information kasi Facebook ang nagiging source ng references nila, pinaniniwalaan nila," 29-year-old Emcee told reportr.

Greg, a 26-year-old businessman, is also fighting fake news by reporting pages in the Waray language. His most recent catch include a photo of a rally in Palo that was made to look like Robredo's supporters paid people to attend.

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While ordinary citizens can fall victim to disinformation, they can be empowered to be agents against fake news, said sociologist Nicole Curato. When they understand how disinformation works, they would know how to go beyond individualistic solutions like "think before you click" and "learn how to fact-check."

"The view that ordinary citizens are passive and manipulable actors should be put to rest. What is needed is to bring ordinary citizens in a context where they can deliberate and exchange arguments in a respective and thoughtful setting," she said.

How to fight fake news

Aside from reporting, netizens can share fact-check articles to amplify their reach, said EngageMedia, a non-profit group that promotes digital rights.

When fact-checking, start with your family and friends if you are not comfortable confronting strangers, said Antonio La Viña, convenor of Movement Against Disinformation.

"Individual users will have to take responsibility of the ecosystem around them also and just call out people. If everyone call out their friends and their colleagues and families who are spreading false information, that will go a long way."

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Offline discussions can be healthier especially with family and friends, said Ona Caritos, executive director of LENTE. "Maganda makipag-online bardagulan but never forget that our main influence, our impact is on our friends and family so never forget the offline conversation, she said.

When conversations become too toxic, don't be afraid to pull back said Ong. If conversations become too toxic, said Jonathan Corpus Ong, a digital media professor at the University of Massachusetts who studied disinformation in the Philippines.

"Let's channel our energies to where we can be most productive and where we can also be physically, emotionally, mentally healthy," Ong said.

How fake news spreads

Advertising and public relation (PR) firms are chief architects of networked disinformation campaigns, not nameless, faceless trolls on social media, Ong said in a 2018 Philippine disinformation study he released with University of Leeds lecturer Jason Vincent Cabañes.

Together with political clients, these strategists set the objectives, which will be translated to viral posts by digital influencers who have highly engaged fans on social media. Community-level fake account operators, either hired by the strategists or politicians, then amplify the message of influencers to create an "illusion of engagement", said Ong and Cabañes.

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And then there's the unpaid grassroots fake news sharers, or the fan page moderators of politicians, opinion leaders, or volunteer political organizers who further spread disinformation voluntarily to the public, they said.

"We think that a lot of our efforts have been unmasking the fake account operators, unmasking the trolls but we have done very little to hold accountable people at the top," said Ong.

Fake news encompasses social media and messaging platforms, he said. YouTube videos that serve propaganda to the older generation are being spliced and repackaged for the youth's consumption on TikTok. The rise of micro influencers, like mommy vloggers and tita TikTokers, help fuel disinformation spread and strengthen beliefs in conspiracy theories, he said.

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It's a hard fight, but not impossible

Those behind the spread of fake news are driven by money, not ideology, making it difficult for them to stop, Ong said.

Sometimes fake news are shared by well-meaning people, asking the questions "did you see this?" or "is this true?" to their personal networks like family, neighbors, and alumni groups, said Michael Canares, a strategy advisor of Step-Up Consulting.

While Facebook, Twitter and other platforms have takedown orders and content moderations, Ong asked "are they doing it fast enough?"

For Greg, reporting trolls sometimes feels like a futile attempt. When one fake news dies, more disinformation pops up online, faster than the fact-checks.

"I still believe Meta will still take down the post. I know it's a small thing compared to the large network of fake news na na-produce na pero I still hope na maybe it will make a small difference," he said.

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