Fact-checking is key to fighting the proliferation of false news or disinformation in this digital age.
This was highlighted by University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication associate professor Yvonne Chua in her presentation during a public webinar titled “Less Noise, More Facts: Improving Information Dissemination for a Better Normal” organized by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) recently.
According to Chua, fact-checking is important, especially in this fast-paced digital world where disinformation is widespread. “[F]act-checks certainly weaken the basis on which disinformation is grounded because they are evidence-based. It is by far one of the fastest responses to exposing disinformation,” she explained.
Citing the 2021 Digital News Report, a yearly global study on news consumption conducted by the Reuters Institute, Chua said that 89 percent or 9 in 10 Filipinos have been exposed to disinformation.
She noted that this “extremely high” figure is worrisome. “The global average stands at 73 percent; at 89 percent, the Philippines ranks second in self-reported exposure to disinformation after Peru,” she revealed.
According to the report, many Filipinos claimed to have been exposed to false or misleading information about Covid-19, politics, and celebrities.
“But what makes the Philippines distinct in this report is the unusually big proportion of respondents [who] said that they have been exposed to disinformation about celebrities. The average for the Philippines is 48 percent, which is more than one and a half times the global average of 29 percent,” Chua elaborated.
When it comes to spreading misinformation, the study found that the highest level of concern is about the behavior of politicians, followed by ordinary citizens.
It also showed that Facebook is the main channel of disinformation among Filipino respondents. “It is no brainer that Facebook would emerge as the top answer because according to We Are Social, nearly 97 percent of Filipinos aged 16 to 64 use Facebook,” Chua said.
This is followed by news websites and messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger. Then, below 10 percent of the Filipino respondents mentioned YouTube search engines like Google and Twitter.
Similarly, a survey conducted among more than 19,000 Filipino respondents in May last year revealed that about 7 percent of Filipinos never verify the news or information they consume.
According to the Internews study coauthored by Chua, only a third of the respondents have developed the habit of always verifying news or information.
The study also identified some of the reasons that keep Filipinos from fact-checking. “On the whole, Filipino cited the lack of time. But, the lack of know-how [or] “I don’t know how to do it?” is also behind the failure or [the] inability of 1 in [every] 5 Filipinos to do so. This self-confessed gap in knowledge and skills cuts across all age groups and certainly needs to be addressed,” Chua said.
She said these findings underscored the need to equip Filipinos with verification or fact-checking skills, both inside and outside the classroom.
The veteran journalist and co-founder of the media nonprofit Vera Files also noted that fact-checks help fill the data voids that arise when available relevant data online is still limited, non-existent, or deeply problematic.
She also pointed out that fact-checks serve as a good starting point for disinformation research. “Researchers who want to depict the prevailing disinformation landscape in the shortest possible time rely in part on fact-checks as may be seen on the Covid-19 misinformation,” she explained.