With internet driven fabrications, conspiracy theories and state sponsored propaganda flooding cyberspace, a blurring of lines has been created between entertainment and news. Research has shown that a significant portion of the Russian population supports military action in Ukraine, citing clichés of state propaganda in their reasoning. The most recent presidential elections in the Philippines was said to have been won through social media mythmaking that rewrote history. How has the internet that was once seen as a mechanism to promote knowledge, solidarity and understanding been used by leaders, spin doctors and conspiracy theorists to promote hatred, paranoia and fear?
By Sofia Flores
At a time when social media becomes the battlefield in information warfare, journalists are facing the impossible task of debunking fake news while witnessing history unfold, several experts at the second Asian Conference for Political Communication (ACPC) 2022.
German journalist Valerie Scholz, who is also the co-founder of fact-checking startup “Facts for Friends”, highlighted the need to make fact-checking more friendly to battle journalists’ “biggest challenge”: disinformation.
“Disinformation jeopardizes the public’s right to be well informed and hinders the process to form public opinion which is essential for democracy,” she said.
Scholz offered a few tips on how to battle disinformation: through awareness and research by means of media literacy, investing in technology, and research, among others; regularization and innovation; and fact-checking.
While fact-checking is not the only cure for disinformation, it is one useful tool, she said. Scholz also stressed that transparency and independence are important in fact-checking to earn the trust of news consumers.
Dr. Saifuddin Ahmed, an assistant professor at Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, discussed deepfakes and how it dupes social media users, who trust audio and visuals more than texts. He also raised how even individuals with high-level intelligence can fall for deepfakes, which proliferates mainly on social media.
“If deepfakes target your own prejudices and biases, most likely you’ll fall for it,” Ahmed warned.
Dr. Nuurrianti Jalli, an assistant professor of communication studies at the Northern State University in the US, said the lack of trust in traditional media is one of the reasons why the audience gravitates towards social media for news. Jalli also stressed the need for a formal curriculum to address media literacy to fight disinformation before it strikes.
“I advocate for more education because in the end, it’s about teaching the people to protect themselves, not needing additonal regulations to be used for people in power for their propaganda.”
Veteran journalist John Nery from Rappler Philippines is looking at debunking disinformation before it spreads online by partnering with educators who are “effective partners” to address disinformation as they have a multiplier effect on students.
Websites such as GetBadNews.com and prebunking can also be effective tools to combat disinformation online, he said.
“I think it’s important for us to focus not just on fact-checks but on message-checking. Try to define the overarching messages that thrive in online disinformation campaigns,” he said.
Indonesian journalist Endy Bayuni, who is with The Jakarta Post, said he is anticipating the flood of disinformation on Indonesian social media feeds before the 2024 general elections.
On regulating social media ahead of the elections, he said “whatever regulation should not come at the expense of free speech.”