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How to Fact-Check Online When There's So Much Misinformation

Facts are essential as the 2022 elections near.
by Erwin Colcol
Nov 3, 2021
Photo/s: Ted Aljibe, Agence France-Presse
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Did presidential aspirant Bongbong Marcos graduate from Oxford University? While supporters and critics have divergent answers, the smart voter should know the facts, which takes some effort when propaganda machines are on overdrive.

Fact: the only son and namesake of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos graduated with a special diploma in social studies, not a bachelor of arts diploma in politics, philosophy and economics. The arguments: Marcos Jr. said the special diploma is a degree, Filipino alumni of the British university say that's not the case. Critics say the larger issue is honesty.

As Filipinos prepare to elect who will lead the country out of the pandemic, correcting what candidates say about their credentials or their stand on issues becomes more essential than ever. If left unchecked, misinformation can influence how people cast their vote, analysts said.

“Fact-checking is a way to hold people in power accountable,” Celine Samson, the head of VERA Files’ online verification team, told reportr.

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“When what they're saying is wrong, when the data that they're basing their policies on are wrong, it's us, the ordinary citizens, who suffer the consequences of that. That's why we need to hold them accountable,” she added.

Misinformation vs. disinformation

Fact-checking entails understanding the nature of social media posts that contain false or misleading information. While the terms to describe these content can be confusing, Samson said the most applicable words to use are “misinformation” and “disinformation.”

Disinformation is information that is intentionally false. It’s designed to cause harm or malign an individual, event or institution, according to Samson.

Misinformation, on the other hand, is also false information, but they’re not necessarily created with the intent to mislead people. It happens when people believe, share, or interact with a post that is false but they don’t realize that it’s wrong, Samson said.

In the case of Marcos’ claims about his Oxford education, it’s both disinformation and misinformation, according to Samson.

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Although the former senator knew what a special diploma means, he continued to mislead the people by equating it to a bachelor’s degree, she said. When people share these claims on social media without knowing the truth behind it, it also becomes a case of misinformation.

What about “fake news”? While people are fond of using it to refer to supposedly false information, it’s actually “inaccurate” and “problematic,” Samson said.

Ginagamit [ng mga tao] itong term na ito para i-discredit yung factual na bagay dahil lang hindi [ito] sang-ayon sa paniniwala nila,” she said.

“It's [also] problematic because it's being used to undermine the media. In the first place, news is factual. News should be factual. And if news is not factual or it's fake, it's not making sense, it's an oxymoron. So we shouldn't be using that term,” she added.

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Why correct misinformation, disinformation?

Misinformation and disinformation, if left uncorrected, have “real world” effects, Samson said, and it becomes more visible now in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2022 elections.

Kung sa COVID lang, there are people who didn't seek treatment from doctors kasi okay na lang daw yung tuob (steam inhalation) o uminom ng salabat (ginger tea),” she said.

Sa atin naman ngayon ahead of the elections, talamak yung historical revisionism. Talagang real-world effect na tina-try ibahin yung narrative and we need to push back against that,” she added.

Truthful and accurate information allows people to make informed decisions, including choosing who to vote for, and this can only happen if misleading posts on social media are corrected.

Ayaw naman natin magbase ng desisyon natin, especially sa kung sino ang iboboto, based on lies or misleading information. That's why we need to fact-check,” Samson said.

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How to spot misinformation, disinformation online

Everybody can and should be a fact-checker, not just journalists, Samson said. As elections near, it’s essential for netizens to know how to spot false information on social media to avoid unknowingly sharing them.

Samson shared the following tips:

Get your facts from authorities

Just like consulting your doctor if you feel anything wrong with your body, it’s best that you rely on authorities to get essential information.

“In terms of the elections, kung may news about disqualification or kung may bagong policy, dapat we should be getting the news directly from Comelec,” Samson said.

“So we visit the Comelec website, or you follow the Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez or other Comelec commissioners para straight from their mouth you hear it,” she added.

CTTO is not credible source

People are fond of putting “CTTO” or “credits to the owner” when reposting information online. Be careful when interacting with these posts as you don’t know where it came from or who said it.

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“Either you go to the first-hand source or you visit actual news websites,” Samson said.

Triangulate

If you doubt the truthfulness of a post, look for two other credible sources that say the same thing.

“If three credible sources are saying the same thing, then that indicates more trust that an event actually happened or sinabi talaga itong statement na ito,” Samson said.

Google is your friend

Oftentimes, information is just one Google search away. Before sharing a post, make sure that you have verified its accuracy.

“Other things you can ask yourself, ano ba yung sinasabi ng ibang sources tungkol sa topic na ito, or meron na bang existing na fact-check tungkol dito? That's how we can check the credibility of something,” Samson said.

Don’t let emotions drive your clicks

You may get too excited to share a post because you found it amusing or infuriating that you didn’t realize realize that it’s false. Before anything else, check your emotions or biases first.

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Huwag agad mag-share ng post, kasi we don't know baka maging source tayo ng misinformation. Hindi natin na-realize mali pala yung na-share natin,” Samson said.

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