Digital literacy in the time of fake news

According to a 2020 article from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, digital literacy is defined as being able to distinguish information from misinformation, and how they are used; it is also recognizing safety and security risks online, as well as being responsible and sensitive when interacting with others on online platforms and communities. By doing so, we avoid falling prey into forming uninformed opinions on manipulated news and engaging with polarized crowds and ever-shifting cybercultures. 

On June 19, 2023, during the recent International Conference of Information Commissioners, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. announced that the government is rolling out a media and information literacy campaign to combat misinformation and disinformation in the country—one that’s designed to be digital, multimedia, and youth-oriented. "Like everyone here, we too recognize as a matter of principle that fake news should have no place in modern society,” the president said.

In the last few years, we’ve seen how more and more Pinoys have access to affordable smartphones and other handheld devices. One good thing that came out of the pandemic of 2020, was that everyone around the world became more connected despite being physically apart. As the global village has become smaller, the majority of the population interacted with the rest of the world by spending more time on social media. 

As a virtual population, Filipino internet users are probably the most active collectively, compared to internet users from other countries. We've long since cemented our status as one of the most engaging users in the world, especially in instances where we need to uplift fellow Pinoys who have represented us on the international stage. These have become the modern ways of igniting the bayanihan spirit whenever it matters. In recent years however, more and more Filipinos have sadly subscribed to, and even spread fake news for whatever reason it served them. This, despite all of the tech upgrades our public facilities, schools, and even our homes go through, still isn’t enough to transform us into critical, sensible thinkers. The more our gadgets have become upgraded, the more gullible and polarized our society has become, especially when it comes to the issues that matter. 

So, now you ask: where is the disconnect in all of these? What can be done to combat the spread of misinformation? What can we do to be more discerning netizens?

According to Professor Jose Victor Torres of the History Department of the De La Salle University in Manila, the fake news virus became a phenomenon with the invention of the internet, where the press became very free. All of a sudden, everyone had access to data, whether this was verified information or not. This breakthrough also gave rise to the citizen journalist, the content creator, the influencer who created and spread stories in their own spaces. On the internet, they have an audience and a platform where these stories are freely disseminated.

Compared to real journalists, bloggers, content creators and influencers who are purveyors of fake news only gather information and put it out for the clout. Journalists on the other hand, follow a certain code of conduct. They are authenticators of the information they gather, and they make sense of it. Journalists are watchdogs who bear witness to the news they bring to their audience.

Historically, the earliest form of the spread of fake news was the leyenda negra or black legend. This was common practice in the sixteenth and seventeenth century Latin America, because of the supposed oppression of natives by the Spanish missionaries. Later investigations by historians would prove these black legends to be false. These early writings detailing the supposed oppressions were published, and were done with a bit of exaggeration and twisting of the facts. Here in the Philippines, the same tactic was employed by the Filipino freedom fighters to promote the propagandist agenda of assimilation, as well as to discredit the Spanish empire. The concept of fake news as we know it today came about in 2010, under the guise of alternative media. Back then, it was known as faux news, where a different set of facts were presented. Through alternative media, the news was still made to look acceptable. 

Professor Torres offers the following ways on how discerning netizens can deal with fake news. First, counter-act by lots of research. In his journalism classes, he always reminds his students never to accept the internet as the gospel truth without proper verification. Second, always keep an open mind, and a sharp observant eye to know what is fake or not.  This can be done by reading books.  Through reading, comprehension will vastly improve, and we are able to equip ourselves with the very skills we need to become more digitally literate. 

When you need to engage with someone who spreads fake news, be sure to back up your truths with evidence. It will also definitely help if you know how the other person is thinking. It is also important to remain calm. Present the true data by explaining carefully without contradicting. Doing these will make the other person understand your point of view. 

Critical, sensible thinking is what sets old-school readers apart from the rest of the population, who easily digest the news they see online without even verifying credible sources. Traditional reading also helps us to retain the information better. 

Digital literacy should also lessen the unnecessary spread of fake news in the media, and especially in the schools. These are the two most important institutions in society that fake news has infiltrated, not only in the Philippines, but also in other parts of the world. By going back to traditional reading, our comprehension, creativity, as well as our critical thinking skills are honed. Through time, digital literacy is acquired, and we develop a sense of caution, and taste for the credible and the verifiable. Knowing these, we’ll be able to put an end to the culture of misinformation in social media, and promote a society where Filipino netizens are more responsible, discerning, and harmonious.



By Richard Lyle Diño

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