HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes - The Philippine Star

I have just finished watching “Welcome to Samdal-ri,” which is about a famous fashion photographer who, after reaching the pinnacle of her profession, suffers a fall from grace with clients dropping her like a hot potato because of a social media video post uploaded by a disillusioned assistant that went viral.

Attempts by the lead character to explain her side turned to naught simply because nobody cared about the truth. Everybody believed what the disillusioned assistant said as bible truth. The scandal ended her career just like that. She was a victim of cyber bullying, misinformation and disinformation.

And then just recently, a very famous Korean actor was found dead at the age of 48, apparently due to suicide. According to news reports, Lee Sun-Kyun, who rose to international fame after starring in the Oscar-winning film “Parasite,” had been under police investigation on suspicion of illegal drug use but he has denied the accusations and has even tested negative in drug tests conducted by the police. Lee claims that he was tricked into using drugs by a bar hostess who later blackmailed him.

One report says that producers and sponsors have removed him from projects because of the investigation, which is not supposed to have been made public and which has been posted and spread online. Lee’s representatives in a statement begged the public to refrain from spreading false information based on speculation or assumption.

In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries chose “post-truth” as the word of the year and defined it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.

According to a report from Pew Research Center in 2017, new information platforms feed the ancient instinct people have to find information that syncs with their perspectives. A 2016 study that analyzed 376 million Facebook users’ interactions with over 900 new outlets found that people tend to seek information that aligns with their views. And this makes many vulnerable to accepting and acting on misinformation.

When BBC Future Now interviewed a panel of 50 experts in early 2017 about the grand challenges that we face in the 21st century, many named the breakdown of trusted information sources.

Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired magazine had this to say: “The major new challenge in reporting news is the new shape of truth. Truth is no longer dictated by authorities, but is networked by peers. For every fact there is a counter fact and all these counter facts and facts look identical online, which is confusing to most people.”

For his part, veteran journalist Tom Rosenstiel said: “Misinformation is not like a plumbing problem you fix. It is a social condition, like crime, that you must constantly monitor and adjust to.”

Meanwhile, an institute director and university professor noted: “The internet is the 21st century’s threat of a nuclear winter and there’s no equivalent international framework for non-proliferation or disarmament. The public can grasp the destructive power of nuclear weapons in a way they will never understand the utterly corrosive power of the internet to civilized society, when there is no reliable mechanism for sorting out what people can believe to be true or false.”

A 2022 Social Weather Station (SWS) survey showed that 69 percent of Filipinos describe the spread of fake news as a serious issue, with 32 percent of the respondents adding that fake news shared by media is a very serious concern. The same survey revealed another pressing issue: that 51 percent of Filipinos admitted they find it hard to spot fake news.

A Pulse Asia survey conducted in the same year also revealed that 86 percent of Filipino adults see the proliferation of fake news as a problem in the country. According to the same poll, 58 percent of Filipinos see social media influencers, bloggers and vloggers as peddlers of fake news about government and politics.

From the MLA Guide to Digital Literacy, here are some guidelines that we might want to observe to avoid being the harbingers of fakes news and misinformation:

Learn to recognize false news stories. Be curious and actively investigate what you read and hear.

Use news sources that are accountable for their content and that follow journalistic ethics and standard.

Use care before sharing news content with others on social media. Pause and reflect on news and information that arouses strong emotions, positive or negative.

Learn to recognize your own biases and compensate for them.

Learn about your rights and responsibilities as a digital citizen.

Misinformation is false or inaccurate information, meaning getting the facts wrong, while disinformation, which is a subset of misinformation, is false information which is deliberately intended to mislead or intentionally misstating the facts. Fake news on the other hand has been defined as purposefully crafted, sensational, emotionally charged, misleading or totally fabricated information that mimics the form of mainstream news.

Whether it be fake news, misinformation or disinformation, news about our government or matters of public interest or about a private person, we should all strive to fact-check and evaluate before believing and sharing. Even the Bible is replete with passages warning against spreading rumors and false reports, gossiping, slandering. The Ninth Commandment in fact says we should not bear false witness against our neighbors, and this includes spreading lies and non-truths about others.

Pause for a moment, think and contemplate the next time we want to post and share something. Take a second to evaluate whether our post could possibly hurt or offend someone.

As a Rotarian, allow me to share the four-way test of the things we think, say or do, and may I add, post and share online. First, is it the truth? Second, if it fair to all concerned? Third, will it build goodwill and better friendships? And fourth, will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Maybe, by pausing a millisecond before we post and share, we can contribute to making this digital world a better place to exist in.


For comments, e-mail at [email protected]

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