Contrary to common belief, disinformation–or popularly known as fake news–is not a new story. It did not happen in a vacuum with the advent of the new media.
Historical accounts show that in Ancient Rome, a fake news crisis broke out after the assassination of Julius Caesar. In a power struggle between Caesar’s staunch supporters, Mark Antony and Octavian, they engaged poetry and rhetoric to win the public. It was followed by Octavian’s smear campaign and character assassination against Mark Antony. In the end, Octavian was seen as the lesser evil and became the first Roman Emperor.
Today, the same political strategies have never been more divisive and destructive to our democracy. Seven months before the 2022 elections, the old and the new (the traditional and the transformative) have already filed their certificates of candidacy before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from October 1 to 8 and have been prematurely campaigning even before the campaign period in the first quarter of 2022.
With the new media, we have witnessed the weaponization of information through misinformation, disinformation, confirmation bias, conspiracy theories, or historical revisionism. Technically, fake news–an overused and, sometimes, misused term–comes in many forms.
In a groundbreaking work on fake news production in the Philippines, Ong and Cabañes (2018) studied the professionalized group of political operators who design disinformation campaigns. Unfortunately, the social media has become the tool for political operations among fake news enablers or “chief architects” in the hierarchy of networked disinformation. And yes, the production of fake news in the country is a paid enterprise.
In the same study, chief architects (thankfully, no relation to licensed architects) manage the whole communication plan and report directly to a politician involved in the disinformation effort. In the process, core campaign messages are created which digital influencers and key opinion leaders with engaged followers on social media amplify. Eventually, a group of community-level fake account operators–who are paid to manipulate political discussions–come into play and lure us, the public, to believe in fake news.
In this time when hate has divided political supporters and created a gap among the informed, misinformed, and uninformed, we should become more critical of the impacts of fake news on our democracy and everyday life. In the midst of all the hate, courageous local citizens have come to the fore to use their voice through their art to stand up against fake news in all forms.
Visual artist Kevin Raymundo, popularly known for Tarantadong Kalbo, has gained online prominence through his tumindig artwork and the movement he inspired. In a comic strip titled Inuman Sessions: Fake News, he tackles stories on historical distortion and red-tagging to promote media and information literacy (MIL) on social media.
Graphic artist and illustrator Marian Hukom has also channeled her love for the arts into online and print platform. One of her advocacies is to combat gendered disinformation or the spreading of deceptive and wrong information and images against women based on personality and gender to taint their reputation (Foundation for Media Alternatives, 2020).
During the time of President Duterte, Filipino journalists continue to persevere even under a difficult time for press freedom. Recently, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2021 to Rappler CEO Maria Ressa for her efforts to “safeguard freedom of expression” and to “expose abuse of power, use of violence, and growing authoritarianism.”
Leading the challenge of fact-checking are several organizations like Tsek.ph, Fact-Check PH, Vera Files, Fact Check Philippines, BarangayHub, Philippine Association of Communication Educators (PACE), Philippines Communication Society (PCS), Association of DevCom Educators and Practitioners (ADCEP) Philippines, and College of Development Communication of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, among others.
Among the student organizations who have ventured into podcasting is the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) Pre-Law Society through its Saligan ng Katotohanan podcast that explores fact-checking methods and Martial Law, among other topics.
For interested readers who would like to participate in online webinars on fact-checking, here are some opportunities:
(1) Out of The Box (OTB) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) / Fake News 101: The Whats, Whys and Hows of Disinformation in the Philippines (October 14, 1:00PM). Register at bit.ly/YESmedialiteracy.
(2) Move.PH (Rappler) /Fact Checking Mentorship Program (Applications until October 15, 11:00 PM). Apply at rplr.co/FCMentorship2021.
(3) The Los Baños Times (College of Development Communication, UPLB) and Move.PH (Rappler) /Maging Fact-Check Champion (October 18, 1:00 PM). Register at https://rplr.co/factcheckchampion
(4) Foundation for Media Alternatives / Media and Information Literacy for the Public Good (October 30). Register at https://bit.ly/3DyfBhC.
Beyond all these efforts that emanate from informed citizens, what it really takes is a village of committed Filipinos who aspire to change the face of democracy at a critical time of a health crisis and political disarray. These times invite us to be there for the country by cultivating a fact-checking community towards a common future we all want. Tungo sa matalinong pagboto sa 2022!
Iskolar ng at para sa bayan, educator, community journalist, researcher, and Ilokano. His recent research studies focus on science communication, organizational communication, community development, and narratives of risks and the pandemic. He enjoys visiting museums and galleries, sipping brewed coffee, and understanding everyday life and social phenomena.