After the fake

Out of the blue recently came bracing confirmation most Filipinos lately feel terrorized by the contemporary berserk that is fake news.

In a survey done from 17 to 21 September, Pulse Asia found nearly 90 percent of adult Filipinos believed fake news is a raging problem; with 58 percent believing social media influencers are the main culprits “spreading false information.”

Such appalling recognition of the ravages of fake news hereabouts sounded oddly permanent. Like a building that had already collapsed.

Taken aback by the foul public mood, alarmed lawmakers and government functionaries duly consoled and professed sterile vows to save us from our calamitous state of living under the insanity of fake news and its purveyors.

Sourly enough, none consoled with an exact description of what pathogens fake news has.

For our purposes then, defining what is it that makes fake news “fake” is our first order of business if we are to get anywhere.

Collins Dictionary defines fake news as “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.”

Put another way, fake news is an attempt to deliberately spread inaccurate or false information to mislead others, presenting it in a way that makes people likely to believe it to be true.

Deliberate intent to deceive then is the first thing that needs countering.

Countering deception in our weaponized social media circus so far has been taken under four broad strategies: algorithmic, corrective, legislative, and psychological.

The algorithmic solution means vocally demanding that social media giants like Google and Facebook tweak their algorithms in such ways as to “dis-incentivize fake or unreliable news sites and prevent disinformation from appearing on people’s newsfeeds in the same way as ‘reliable’ news sites.”

Algorithms, however, are notoriously imperfect at detecting misleading content. Sorry attempts to do so by Facebook for instance have often backfired.

Corrective solutions, on the other hand, are about the post-hoc debunking of false stories through fact-checking tools.

Fact-checking initiatives abound. While laudable, the efficacy of fact-checking remains sadly mixed for such a reason as it is starkly impossible to debunk every fake or misleading story.

Besides the fact that even when corrections are issued, the damage has often already been done. Once people have acquired a false belief, they are unlikely to update their views.

Meanwhile, new regulations and legislation to combat fake news are often viewed as dicey. Not least because tougher restrictions on content are often seen as curbing dissent and free speech.

Human Rights Watch, for instance, says Singapore’s Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act has been used to prosecute speech criticizing the government.

As for the psychological maneuver, what this really means is that fake news is not just a government problem or a social-media company problem but an all-of-us problem.

In short, each of us has a critical role to play in fighting fake news even under its boisterously relentless onslaught.

Although fake news today spreads faster and easier on social media megaphones, giving us comfort is the fact we now do know about how fake news takes advantage of our emotions to trick us and about how it tries to flood us with lies over and over again because the more we hear and see fake news, the more likely we are to fall for it.

Bear in mind too that fake news isn’t new. Every generation has had its share of fake news, knowing of it under different guises. But past generations have squarely battled with it and successfully learned from it.

So, steel yourself against the temptation to think the simplest solution is to trust nothing.

That’s the easy way out. That’s what fake news pushers want us to do. They want us to think that nothing is true anymore or that the problem is so unbeatable that it isn’t worth our effort.

Don’t despair, therefore. It may take some doing. But it’s truly sensible to find out the truth and defend it.


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