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Fake news epidemic: Journalism in the post-truth era

art by ARRIENNE JAN A. ENRIQUEZ

THE MEDIA is under attack. Releasing content on different platforms—print, broadcast, and online—the media has always been a trusted source of news and information.

But in the past few months, the Philippines has seen a surge of fake news posted on social media sites, and even with real information being a click away, there are online users who choose to believe fabricated stories.

With fake news sowing confusion within media consumers, legitimate news sources are now discredited and getting attacks from readers. These incidents signal the post-truth era, in which readers tend to believe news that appeal to their emotions rather than those that contain facts and logical arguments.

In the time of developing technology, how is fake news created and what are its implications on journalism?

Fake news formation

A recent study by Akmai Technologies revealed that the Philippines has the slowest internet connection (5.5 megabit per second) in the Asia-Pacific region.

Due to this, Filipinos usually rely on free data to go online.

However, Filipinos still spend roughly four hours and 17 minutes a day using social media sites, another study released by We are Social, Ltd. showed.

With the emergence of the internet, social media sites became one of the leading sources of news and current events.

Yet fact-checking became the least priority of online users in the country. These factors fertilized the breeding ground of fake news.

Joseph Alwyn Alburo, vice president of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and a journalism instructor at the University of Santo Tomas (UST), compared the internet to a “Pandora’s box.”

“Media consumers are having a field day embracing the infinite resources that the internet has to offer. While it has democratized the consumption of content, it has also opened a Pandora’s box [containing] all that is good, bad, and even evil in terms of information resources in the world,” Alburo said.

It can be observed that fake news became prevalent in the country during the 2016 presidential elections.

Christian Esguerra, ABS-CBN multimedia reporter and a journalism professor at UST, said people who create fake news usually have political agendas. “From where I sit, I see a lot of fake news from propagandists, those who are bent on destroying political rivals.”

Since fake news and news from legitimate sources are both present in social media, some online users have difficulty in differentiating fraudulent from factual.

There are people who do not bother to verify information or are biased and selective in what they want to believe, leading them to rely on fake news, Esguerra said.

For Alburo, the propagation of fake news can pose disastrous consequences to journalism and society in general. “The public will be ignorant and uninformed, making them perfectly gullible to the propaganda and lies of those who are in power. Governments will rule unopposed and ultimately, society’s important institutions and the general public will definitely suffer.”

Fake news can start as easily as a rumor and can spread anywhere easily, especially with the help of social media, Esguerra said. Similarly, Alburo said fake news would find their way to places “as far as the internet‘s reach.”

With the interconnectivity the internet provides, universities and colleges are definitely unsafe from the onslaught of fake news. How should campus journalists respond to the threat of fake news?

Campus journalists fight back

“Our job is to adapt to their tactics, to make sure that kahit anong platform ‘yung pasukin nila, mapa-social media, Twitter, Facebook, makaka-adapt tayo, makakasagot tayo sa pinapakalat nila,” said Robbin Dagle, editor in chief of the Ateneo de Manila University’s The Guidon.

While fake news do not affect campus publications as badly as major news sites, student journalists should correct fake news, said Bianca Suarez, managing editor of The LaSallian, the official student publication of the De La Salle University-Manila.

Campus publications should follow the principles of verification, fairness, and good journalism, given that they play an important role in fighting fake news, Alburo said.

“School publications should be the windows to open the minds of journalists [to] the realities of the world out-side the four corners of the University,” Alburo said. “We are members of the larger Philippine society, and whatever it is [that one is] going through or experiencing, we are part of it through and through.”

For Esguerra, campus publications should serve as training grounds for aspiring journalists. Student journalists should strive to produce “honest-to-goodness journalism” and good reporting on a regular basis, the esteemed reporter said.

To combat the propagation of fake news in their respective universities, the editorial boards of said student publications make sure that every piece of information that will appear in their articles are triple checked before publishing.

Sanny Boy Afable, editor in chief of the Philippine Collegian, the official student publication of the University of the Philippines-Diliman, said publications should avoid single-sourcing because it leaves behind other crucial sides of a story.

Amierielle Anne Bulan, editor in chief of UST’s The Varsitarian, shared that not only does she talk with section editors, but also with the ones who wrote the articles. “Sila [kasi] ‘yung naka-face to face noong source.”

In their own ways, campus journalists are fighting back against fraudulent stories and taking extra measures to produce truthful and accurate content.

“Genuine journalism is at risk na ngayon kasi nga ang dami na nating kalaban. Journalism has to step up to tighten the screw sa pagpa-publish ng mga [story],” Bulan said.

Challenges for today’s journalists

The media is partially at fault for the proliferation of fake news, Afable claimed.

Calling the media a “double-edged sword,” Afable said that while media has the power to encourage discussions among audiences, it is also a powerful tool that can be wielded by influential people to their advantage.

The propagation of fake news is alarming, because intentionally or not, these fabricated stories are also used by political personalities to confuse online users.

One example is when Peter Tiu Laviña, campaign spokesman of President Rodrigo Duterte, posted a picture of a 9-year-old rape and murder victim, and lambasted human rights advocates, bishops, and detractors of the President for their silence on the rape-slay which was reportedly done by a drug addict.

But the picture was not from the Philippines and was actually taken in Brazil in 2014. Others who shared the post were Presidential Communications Operations Office Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson and former senatorial bet Rafael Alunan III, who are both Duterte’s allies.

Even the media itself can fall victim to fake news.

On Sept. 23, Manila Times columnist Yen Makabenta praised United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Hailey for saying “Duterte should be given space to run his nation.”

The quote, however, was not actually true and was posted in a fake news website posing as Qatar-based media organization Al Jazeera.

Now, the media has the opportunity to correct its faults.

“Members of the press should regain public trust by taking a shift in their perspective—an awareness of their nature as a media institution, a consciousness of the unequal power relations, and an effort to stay critical and not neutral in times of moral crisis,” Afable said.

Dagle said journalists should improve how they tell stories and adapt to the changing needs of media consumers. “’Yun naman talaga ang trabaho natin, emaglahad ng storya. How [do we] instigate change and critical thinking? It’s through stories.”

Alburo encourages journalists to revisit the basics of journalistic principles to strengthen their resolve when met with challenges. “It is our sworn duty to our constitutionally-protected profession to watch over those who are in power and are enemies of the truth, hold them accountable, and serve the public with all the important information they need to lead informed and enlightened lives under a democracy. So long as we as journalists know who and why we are, nothing can go against us, least of all fake news.”

“The challenge for most journalists these days is to rise above mediocrity, apathy, and stupor,” Alburo added. “[I]f we are to survive all the current challenges that face us Filipino journalists these days, we need to be reminded of our sense of purpose, our loyalty to our public, and the sacred principles of journalism.” F MICHOLO ANDREI GABRIEL I. CUCIO and MARIA DAPHNE CRYSTAL E. UMALI

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