Combating fake news in the digital era 

    1999

    By Yovita Marlina
    Senior Manager, Customer Growth
    Southeast Asia, Turnitin 

    With the internet becoming a way of life and the explosive growth in the use of digital tools, people are exposed to a myriad of information. This dynamic new world calls for more savvy online users to support better comprehension and communication of ideas and information.

    Digital literacy is the answer to the challenges of this era as it helps people to understand technology so they can use it safely and effectively. The ability to find, use and create information online in a beneficial way is also a part of digital literacy. This is especially vital for students to learn early due to the growth of online learning. However, as information becomes freely available, there is a bigger challenge to overcome – the spread of misinformation.

    Filipinos spend a significant amount of time online, sharing and co-creating content on social media. Thus, the ability to validate information sources and exercise critical thinking becomes very important. In the digital era where people are constantly inundated by data and information, it is critical that the Philippines educates citizens on digital literacy to address misinformation.

    In April 2020, the Philippine National Police arrested 47 people across the country for allegedly spreading fake news about COVID-19 on social media. In August, several people shared false information claiming that five people died in Tarlac after getting vaccinated against COVID-19; a claim that was quickly refuted by public officials. Such hoaxes can create distrust in the government and undermine the health sector’s response to the pandemic.

    More than ever, it has become necessary to ensure that students are armed with the critical thinking skills to evaluate the credibility of sources and make judgments about the information presented to them. The consequences of not equipping young citizens with these skills are too great to ignore.

    The power of fake news 

    Fake news spreads on social media like wildfire because it plays to our biases and uses the trust that we have in our friends and family. As a result, the content is less scrutinized before it is shared.

    Fake news also uses human preference for a proven hypothesis against us. Fake news claims are often accompanied by ‘proof’, even if it is fabricated. Its sensational nature elicits an emotional response, which encourages people not to validate the information.

    The emergence of the internet and social media has changed the ease of interaction and changed people from just consumers of content to producers and distributors as well.

    Although people understand the dangers of spreading fake news, many people do it unintentionally. In March, Facebook users shared tips on how to prevent and combat the virus, which were believed to have been created by UNICEF.

    UNICEF Philippines, however, denied that they were the source of the tips and encouraged users to refer only to information from credible and verified sources.  

    According to data collected by Social Weather Station (SWS), WeAreSocial and Hootsuite, there was a surge in internet and smartphone usage in the Philippines before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In We Are Social’s analysis, the country had 73 million internet users as of January 2020. The same survey disclosed that 1 in 4 people or 15.7 million Filipinos get their daily news from Facebook. Thus, it is not surprising how fast fake news can spread across the entire population.

    Empowering savvy digital citizens 

    To provide all students with the digital literacy skills required to succeed in the global economy and thwart the spread of fake news, educators must empower students to understand the real-life consequences of fake news, especially amid the pandemic. This starts with teaching students the importance of verifying the sources of information cited in their school work.

    Turnitin has released an online Source Credibility pack to support teachers in this goal, containing lesson plans, videos, activities, and assessment guides that encourage students to find more credible sources. Moreover, tools such as NewsGuard can help students vet information with a more critical eye and identify legitimate sources with confidence.

    People must learn how to be more vigilant against fake news and take the time to check sources before sharing a story. Educators truly have an important role to play in ensuring that the next generation of global citizens are equipped to decipher the real from the fake when it comes to news and information.