Interactive video series ‘Nasaan si Toto Ong’ tackles fake news and disinformation

Published August 2, 2020, 8:00 AM

by Jessica Pag-iwayan

WANTED A screen cap from the first scene of Sino si Toto Ong

Creators for Change ambassador Lex uses his artistic platform to remind his viewers about the importance of fact-checking

Technology, specifically the internet, has brought a lot of good things to our lives. It connects us with our loved ones no matter the distance, makes it possible for us to work from home in the middle of a pandemic, and brings information easily within our reach. 

But technology also has many downsides, among which is the rise of fake news and disinformation, especially on social media. The reality is that people of all ages, even the digital natives, even the highly educated, fall into this trap. 

A study conducted by researchers from Stanford Graduate School of Education has shown that lots of Americans cannot distinguish between what is fake and what is authentic in the news. Based on data gathered from 7,800 students, the study came to the conclusion that 80 percent of middle schoolers believed that sponsored content was a real news story and some even thought that the unverified account was more reliable than traditional sources. 

The birth of Nasaan si Toto Ong?

This is happening around the world, which inspired Filipino content creator and Google Creator for Change finalist Lex to create a choose-your-own-adventure interactive YouTube video series titled Nasaan si Toto Ong.

In an interview with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, Lex shares the story behind Toto Ong and what he is hoping his viewers can learn from this fun, interactive content. 

Lex is a YouTuber who has been chosen to be part of Google’s Creator for Change program. During the boot camp, the self-taught animator pitched his ideas about interactive video that would teach people the importance of fact-checking. 

“I started my channel in November of 2017. By started, I mean, I registered for an account. In the weeks and months that followed, I forced myself to learn. I uploaded my first video in January of 2018,” he says. “During the Creators for Change boot camp in Manila, we were shown the possibility of using interactive content on YouTube. It ultimately inspired me to create a fictional choose-your-own-adventure story. I have an animation channel and, in many ways, that in and of itself is empowering. It is theoretically possible for me to put anything on the screen. It just takes time and effort to put it there.” 

WHAT’S NEXT? You get to choose the next course of action done by our protagonist police officer

Choose your own adventure

Nasaan si Toto Ong? follows the story of a police officer investigating the mysterious disappearance of Toto Ong. Viewers will play the role of the officer and gather information to solve the case via a choose-your-own-adventure option. This series is created in partnership with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the European Union, YouTube Creators for Change Program, Love Frankie, and Vera Files. 

“Creating content about fake news and disinformation would sound awfully preachy in a straight up video essay or explainer. I needed to help my audience somehow find the answers for themselves. This way, I trust that they’ll remember the lesson more,” Lex says. “Toto Ong is a wordplay on the Filipino word totoo, which means truth. It is essentially a quest for the truth. Three of the four suspects represent one form or kind of fake news. The viewer plays the game as the investigator in search of Toto Ong, in search of the truth.”

Lex reminds everyone that not everything that is happening on the Internet is real, and readers and viewers should be discerning about the information given to them. 

“Just because we have seen something happen on the Internet does not prove that something did happen. Google’s reverse image search is an all-powerful tool when it comes to fact-checking. We can now identify situations where an old photo or a video is reposted in a completely different context,” he explains. “Fake news is typically disguised as real news. Their authors add some form of legitimacy by using images from real news websites, from prior reports, but creating content in a completely different context. I’ve demonstrated the use of reverse image search in my video. It has led to the biggest break in the cold case of the disappearance of Toto Ong.” 

He challenges viewers to find the longer version of this series. “Thank you for watching Nasaan Si Toto Ong,” he says. “A lot of work went into the production of the story. There is a longer version that exists somewhere on the Internet. There’s also a sequel to this game, living on one of my hard drives.”