The rise in disinformation

Published April 20, 2018, 10:00 PM

by Mario Casayuran and Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid
Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid

By Florangel Rosario Braid


Internet freedom has been on the decline for the past seven years. While its credibility is now being questioned, nonetheless, it will continue to play an important role in our political life. This, being an election year, we can expect its platforms to be crowded with electoral advertising. Since it is the primary carrier of digital media which is the source of much of the disinformation that we now see, this becomes a source of alarm. Thus, learning more about the technology and the behavior of viewers is important. Selective exposure to specific content had led to echo chambers where users tend to shape and reinforce preferences and biases. Fake news and trolls which are known to have contributed to the fall in global Internet freedom, will increasingly become more visible. How do we address fake news, disinformation and the influence of trolls in our local media environment?

The spread of disinformation is perhaps the most fast-rising phenomenon in the history of media information. In a year’s time, in early 2017 and soon after US President Trump popularized it through constant repetition of the phrase over social media, fake news had spread all over the world and had become the “word of the year.” Today, fake news and disinformation have demonstrated their power to threaten the democratic system. As the Pew Research have pointed out, when fake news activities move from sporadic and haphazard, to organized and systematic efforts, they become disinformation campaigns with the potential to disrupt governance.

Solutions presented to combat fake news include building high-quality journalism and exposing the public to a diversity of news sources and to become skeptical of what they read and watch.

It was also shown in a study of online news in the US that a majority get their source of news from Newspapers organizations (46%) but a close second is social media (43%). Trailing behind is Search with 20%, Email at 15%, other media at 8%, and family at 5%.

A third-party which is becoming more influential is a group known as fact-checkers. (Here at home, Facebook had invited Rappler and Vera Files to perform that role). The more well known fact-checker is the International Fact Checking Network (IFCN). Most fact-checkers in the US come from the Washington Post and websites such as

The most ambitious attempt to study the phenomenon is a report prepared by a group of 39 experts from the European Union’s 28 member-countries, commissioned by the European Commission and completed last March.

The report entitled “A Multi-Dimensional Approach to Disinformation” examined the reasons for its existence and offered viable solutions. The report defined “disinformation” as that which includes all forms of inaccurate or misleading information designed and promoted to intentionally cause public harm or for profit. It does not cover issues arising from creation and dissemination online of illegal content  (notably defamation, hate speech, incitement to violence) which belong to the “fake news” category and subject to regulatory remedies.

The multi-dimensional approach is based on pillars that enhance transparency, promote media and information literacy, develop tools for empowering users and journalists to tackle disinformation, safeguard diversity and sustainability of the media ecosystem, promote continuing research on impact of disinformation, and reject attempts to censor content.

Other recommendations needing action are that of countering interference in elections, encouraging commitment by lead platforms (Facebook, Twitter,  etc.) to share data, and strengthening resilence to online disinformation.

To achieve these ends, the panel of experts recommend the crafting of codes of practices and for government and private institutions to invest in digital literacy and trust-building measures.

Media literacy must focus not only on understanding the technology but more important, the development of critical thinking. Media literacy education teaches students active inquiry and critical evaluation of media messages and how to navigate the digital media environment.

An important principle for existing platforms is to adapt advertising and sponsored content policies to enable privacy-compliant access to fact-checking and research communities to make advanced settings and controls more readily available to users in order that they would be able to customize their online experience.

Thus, we are witnessing the gradual emergence of a new group of fact-checking institutions and verification communities. The latter are expected to work with researchers who can independently assess the speed and impact of disinformation.

Public institutions are likewise expected to share data promptly and efficiently. They have a crucial role to play in ensuring the accuracy of information that is disseminated. It is tempting for government institutions to interfere but this they must not do as this would further erode freedom of expression and free media. And, all over the world, this is happening, according to Freedom House, an organization that monitors and evaluates press freedom.

This European Union study recognizes how the Internet has evolved from earlier expectation of a “humane and fair” system, as digital disinformation threatens democratic political processes including the integrity of elections and public policies in health, science, and finance areas.


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