Student communicators urged to verify “news” shared on social media

Over 100 students from different schools in Zamboanga City do a practicum on fact-checking during the seminar on identifying fake news at the Ateneo de Zamboanga University on Wednesday (27 September 2017). MindaNews photo

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/02 October) — Consumers of news and information should verify and fact-check what’s being spread on social media to avoid becoming victims of so-called fake news or disinformation, resource persons from various media organizations said in a seminar here last week.

The seminar, titled “Journalism in the Age of Truth, Trolls and Fake News,” tackled the influence of social media on how Filipinos now appreciate what they consider news. It was held at the Ateneo de Zamboanga University and attended by some 100 communications students and campus writers from different schools in the city.

Rowena Paraan of ABS-CBN, who discussed the prevalence of fake news, observed that it gets to spread fast on the internet because many social media users would share it without bothering to read beyond the headline.

This happens because many social media users access Facebook by using free data which doesn’t allow them to open the links that are being shared, she explained.

She said among the ways to verify the integrity of information being shared on social media is to check the grammar of an article. She emphasized that a faulty grammar should serve as “red flag” for readers, as it means the absence of gatekeeping.

Rowena Paraan of ABS-CBN and Mindanews photographer Erimand Esmer Dejeto during the open forum. MindaNews photo

She also told the participants to read the “About Us” portion or details about the publisher of a website.

Fictitious news articles are also not clear on attributions or sources, she added.

Paraan, however, noted that the use of disinformation in media is nothing new. She recalled that President Ferdinand Marcos often resorted to it “to mislead the public”.

She said government-controlled media would portray Marcos as healthy and active even while he was undergoing treatment in a hospital.

Daniel Abunales of VeraFiles said that one way to counter “alternative facts” is to fact-check or do a research on questionable and controversial information.

He said readers should also watch out for “flip-flops” or instances where the subject of a news story, public officials in particular, make a turnaround from their previous statements.

But he cautioned that reporters should note the intervening events between the previous and recent pronouncements to give readers a proper context.

Participants to the seminar, college and senior high school students,, come from different schools in Zamboanga City, MindaNews photo

Both Abunales and Paraan presented examples of fake news and news stories containing erroneous and inaccurate information.

Erimand Esmer Dejeto, a photojournalist working with MindaNews, talked about the manipulations that can be done to alter photographs.

He said that like textual information, photographs can be altered too to misrepresent a particular event.

He said that social media abounds with photographs that have been digitally altered, and gave some tips on how to detect them.

MindaNews chair H. Marcos C. Mordeno opened the seminar with an overview of the current media situation as a product of the country’s history since colonial times.

He said that Philippine media has remained feisty for the most part and often boasts of itself as the freest in Asia except during martial law when Marcos muzzled it.

He noted that while traditional media (radio, television and print) continue to be major sources of information, social media’s influence is growing.

He said more and more people patronize social media because it’s more democratic, although it suffers from the absence of accountability.

“The growth of social media has challenged corporate media’s influence in shaping the news agenda as well as public opinion. Why, it may even influence the future of governments,” he said.

Mordeno added that among the challenges for media is to provide context to its reportage on Mindanao and the peace process.

“Most journalists covering Mindanao are ignorant of the island’s history and the evolution of the peace process from the Tripoli Agreement of 1976 to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed in 2014,” he said.

He further lamented that reporters would limit themselves to covering danger or conflict zones.

“The usual sources are the MILF, MNLF, military and politicians. What about the civilians, the people affected by the armed conflict?” he said.

Organized by MindaNews with support from the US Embassy, the seminar will be replicated in other major cities of Mindanao. (MindaNews)