By Marivir R. Montebon
Fake News inspires hate. The first defense in the deluge of fake news is to continue writing excellent news reports, doing follow-up stories as they develop. And trolls must be blocked.
A few weeks ago, I received a private message from my aunt asking the veracity of the news item about President-elect Trump to deport Filipino businesswoman and community leader Loida Nicolas Lewis to the Philippines.
I laughed because the headline alone was ridiculous, one will immediately know it is a farce. Still, I decided to read the article and was immediately agonized at how it was poorly written, riddled with grammatical errors and devoid of the proper attribution of sources and basic details. I checked on the website. It was a bogus news site.
So I went back to my aunt and told her not to believe it. It was fake news.
As a journalist since college, never before has the proliferation of fake news been so bothersome as they are now. I get to read them everyday on social media. What is going on? Why do I read a lot of mocking and bullying “news” everyday now?
My colleagues in the profession, after having a very impassioned discussion about it, took big strides to hold the first Kapihan (coffee session) for 2017 about fake news.
Hence, the Fil-Am Press Club of New York conducted a town hall titled “Beware of Fake News: A community conversation against deception” co-chaired by Jeanette Marco and myself, on January 10, 2017 at the auspices of the Unification Theological Seminary on 5th Avenue.
Our speakers were stalwarts of their professions: multi-awarded journalist and writer Ninotchka Rosca and cyber security expert Jessica Robinson.
Fake News is Fabrication
Rosca, author the two award winning novels Twice Blessed and State of War, enlightened the audience of the nuances of information – categorized as angled news, erroneous news, and fake news.
Fake news, she said, is fabrication. In contrast to angled news which has its bias or emphasis and erroneous news which contains wrong information, fake news are outright lies, said Rosca.
She noted that the fake news are sophisticated results of brainwashing by political strategists and aided by highly technical people.
“There is gas lighting all over the world which changes your reality by presenting one half of reality or replacing what is real. I am paranoid, but hey I survived Martial Law. So fake news accomplishes the subtle shift of mind, for example, to dislike a Black president,” she explained.
When asked how must journalists counter the proliferation of fake news, Rosca said that continuing to write excellent news is the first line of defense. “Persist,” she quipped.
Speaker Jessica Robinson, on the other hand, emphasized to “read and verify” all the time and as journalists, continue to make people accountable for their actions.
Fake News Inspires Hate
Robinson, a specialist in physical and cyberspace security and CEO of Purepoint International, explained that fake news abounds because of the accessibility of social media and the profits they bring to advertisers. Advertisers, according to her, are bankrolling these sites that are harmful to society, spewing hate news that can lead to harassment, because these are profitable to them.
“People are making money by spreading hate. and that is really scary,” she remarked.
Robinson warned that fake news is dangerous both in the personal, national and international spheres. “Fake news can inspire hate, which is described by the NYT as a toxic mix of lies, white supremacist content and bullying that can inspire attacks on Muslims, gay people, women, African Americans and others. Hate speech is not only proven to be a consequence in the US, but in Spain, Italy and Germany with false reports targeting Middle Eastern refugees,” she said.
In the Philippines, trolls operating fabricated or manufactured sites were paid $100,000 or Php5 million a month particularly during the recent national elections in May 2016, according to an investigative study by Maria Ressa of Rappler.
Call Them Out and Block Them
Rosca, founder of the feminist organization AF3IRM, added that websites or Facebook pages that spread fabrications must be boycotted and shunned. “Or calling them out by referring to their fabrications and contesting them without mentioning their names, as these sites earn on the basis of how many times their posts are shared or their names mentioned.”
I asked if the abundance of fake news sites would eventually usher in the clamping of the press. Rosca said the deluge of fake news instantaneously means the drowning of good and honest reportage. “That’s why I said you have to persist in good reportage and coverage of developing stories, and best to block trolls.”