The fight against fake news and misinformation

Published May 30, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Senator Sonny Angara


Senator Sonny Angara

In September last year, the SK of Barangay Balaya in San Carlos City, Pangasinan installed WiFi modems at several locations in their village to provide Internet connectivity so the youth can more easily attend their online classes.

Last August, the SK of Lavezares Town, Northern Samar procured several computer and printer sets for their e-library, which students in their area could use without charge for educational purposes.

Then in June, the SK of Trento, Agusan Del Sur set up an “Online Palengke” so that residents could purchase products from enterprises in the area without breaking health protocols and social distancing measures,

These are but some examples of the critical roles the youth councils have played throughout the pandemic. And in many instances, the SK officials who engage in such work do so without any form of compensation whatsoever.  It is with these stories in mind that we recently sponsored, shepherded, and passed a measure on introducing amendments to the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) Reform Act of 2015 (RA 10742).

One of the major changes in our proposal is to allow SKs to access a portion of their funds for honorariums. This is in response to the call of our young leaders as they continue to operate without any form of compensation. As stated by the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines, Inc. (ULAP), this honorarium would allow SKs to cover incidental expenses which are not allowed to be charged against the SK and barangay funds.

Our measure also provides specific guidelines on how SK funds should be used, particularly in projects or initiatives that address the various issues of the youth in their community. Among these are student stipends and other educational assistance programs to reduce out-of-school youth incidence and dropouts; sports and wellness projects to address physical and mental health; skills training and livelihood assistance; and, environmental awareness projects, among others.

We are hopeful that the reforms we introduced would reinvigorate our current SK officials and entice other competent and young individuals to enter public service. We are also optimistic that our measure would help empower the SK to address the youth’s most pressing challenges.

Some of these challenges relate to fake news and misinformation. According to a recent study based on the results of the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the Philippines belonged to the list of countries that had the lowest score in the index of knowledge of reading strategies for assessing the credibility of sources. And based on this result, Filipino youth (15 years-olds) are said to be among the most vulnerable in the world to fake news and misinformation.

Most of our young people acquire news through social media as these platforms are convenient and easily accessible. In fact, according to the 2021 We Are Social and Hootsuite annual report, the Philippines emerged as the country that spent the most time on social media—an average of 4 hours and 15 minutes each day on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. And while these sites have been implementing interventions to curb the spread of fake news through their medium, there is admittedly a lot more that still needs to be done.

The Filipino youth’s vulnerability to misinformation could be attributed to poor reading comprehension. The 2018 PISA, accomplished by around 600,000 students across 70 participating nations, showed that Filipino students only scored an average 340 points in the reading comprehension exam—way below the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average of 487 points.

The 2018 PISA noted an individual’s capacity to distinguish fact from opinion, assess the credibility of sources, and learn strategies to detect biased or false information are necessary reading and comprehension skills in today’s digital world. And apparently, these are competencies many of our youth still need to learn.

Hence, the ability to distinguish verified information from trusted sources should be taught as a basic skill. Our failure in this regard could lead to a generation that is easily swayed by disinformation and is cynical of the Fourth Estate.

Correcting this will take no less than the concerted efforts of national government agencies and policymakers. We also believe this is something which our SKs are particularly well-positioned to help address.  And so we hope, that as we in Congress are taking steps to further empower them, our youth councils will take a more proactive stance against the spread of fake news and misinformation. (30)

Sen. Sonny Angara has been in public service for more than 16 years.  He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.

E-mail: [email protected]| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara