Battling disinformation

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

Mark Zuckerberg's appearance before the US Congress last week is unprecedented for a number of reasons. For one, it marks the period when Facebook is finally opening itself up to scrutiny and looking into its effects in increasing political polarization in society.

The appearance of the erstwhile reclusive multi-billionaire CEO, I hope, is a good sign of the seriousness on his part to take personal responsibility and reign over the consequences of his creation.

With an apology from Zuckerberg and his pledge to implement reforms in Facebook, this serves as an admission that indeed Facebook has created a monster with its privacy breaches and its failure to stop fake news and other means of disinformation spreading through its channels.

The pilot episode of David Letterman's show on Netflix ("My Next Guest Needs No Introduction") had former US President Barack Obama as its guest. In that interview, Obama summed up the dangers posed by today's information and social media-dependent society.

"If you are getting all your information off algorithms being sent through a phone," Obama said, "it is just reinforcing whatever biases you have which is the pattern that develops."

He continued: "Whatever your biases are it's what you are being sent and that gets more and more reinforced over time. That's what's happening with these Facebook pages where more and more people are getting their news from. At a certain point you just live in a bubble. And that's part of why our politics is so polarized right now." It is a solvable problem, but it's one that we as a society have to spend a lot of time thinking about, Obama advised.

One way to solve the problem of disinformation in this highly sophisticated digital information environment is to invest in or pay for high quality journalism that has public trust as its most defining aspect. Information that can be trusted is not for free. There is an army of professionals striving to deliver that trusted information to you.

Disinformation, on the other hand, is for free. There is an army of paid hacks and idle trolls who will try to manipulate you with their own set of facts. "A person is entitled to his own opinion, but is not entitled to his own facts."

That is why it is good that Facebook is now trying to address the issue on disinformation and fake news being spread through its platform. In the Philippines, Facebook has already blocked several websites believed to be peddling fake news. Ten of these sites are known pro-Duterte sites.

During the 2016 elections, these sites, as well as those reportedly maintained by a pro-Duterte PR person in Cebu, were very visible in my and my friends' Facebook newsfeed. Their web pages usually adopt the "jab jab jab, right hook" technique in social media marketing.

It's something like this: Patiently attract followers and endear readers in your social media page with entertaining and highly engaging content. Build positive relationships with them and bring down their guard, before landing that punch that will ask them to do something like "Vote for Candidate A."

Most people are still unaware of techniques such as this although they are highly exposed to such methods. Really, it's time to foster a public discourse on the complexities and dangers in the digital age of information. This should educate most people about how information technology works and its impact on how information is produced, sourced, and distributed.

I'll write with that topic in mind in my next column.


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