Multidisciplinary perspectives on PH information disorder featuredin UST’s Media Leadership Lecture Series

In the hopes of helping us learn more effective ways to dispel the fog of disinformation occluding discourse spaces both online and offline, experts on combating the information disorder or the problem of ‘fake news’ from the academe, Church, industry, and civil society discussed the current realities and possible solutions during the 5th installment of the UST Media Leadership Lecture Series. It was held on April 14, 2023, at the UST Paredes Ballroom, and live-streamed via the UST Office of Public Affairs Facebook page, where it remains available for public viewing.

The Philippine Institute for Development Studies Research Information Department Director Dr. Sheila Siar, Philippine Communication Society Director/PRO and UST Journalism Program Coordinator Mr. Felipe Salvosa II, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila Office of Communications Director Fr. Roy Bellen, multidisciplinary journalist and documentarist Mr. Atom Araullo, Limitless Lab Chief Executive Officer Ms. Joie Cruz, and Break the Fake Movement Founder Mr. Gabriel Billones, Jr., served as the resource speakers.

Siar discussed “Realities of Information Disorder: Misinformation, Disinformation and Mal-Information,” where she differentiated the key terms misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation; explained cognitive psychology theories as to why people may believe or share false information; examined the state of the current information disorder in the Philippines and the methods employed to mitigate it; and suggested solutions that can improve the situation.

“Two things we can do [to strengthen defenses against the information disorder] are, first, in the area of education. For me education is key. Critical thinking and analytical reasoning should start very early in life in the home and in the school… [Second,] community engagement and capacity building are essential. Train and engage citizens to fact check.”

She further emphasized strengthening media literacy in the basic education curriculum as well as capacitating government staff with information functions, such as information, health, DRRM officers, on crisis and risk communication as well as science communication.

“We can’t stop fake news from being made, but we can stop sharing it,” reminded Siar.

Salvosa talked about  “The Academe’s Role in Inculcating Critical Thinking and Analysis among the Youth versus Information Disorder,“ where he expressed concern over people’s rising selective news avoidance and low trust in the mainstream news.

“The question of how journalists can raise the public’s trust in the news is something that will occupy or even bedevil practitioners and academics alike, for years to come. Now I think the answer does not lie in the past, we are not returning to the era of Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, [and other] authoritative voices of the news. Given the technological upheavals and constant emergence of new platforms that have disrupted journalism, journalists need to continuously establish their credibility to the public and slowly but surely earn their trust,” said Salvosa, emphasizing the importance of news literacy and thorough fact-checking that is accessible to the masses through translation into Filipino and other regional languages.

Fr. Bellen presented the social communications ministry of the Church and the various initiatives of the Church against the information disorder. He remarked, “Media and Communications are gifts meant to build communities and raise humanity. It is not a tool to be used to destroy others and lift up one’s self and one’s self-serving interests.”

Araullo, in his discussion, lamented the hostility against journalists amid the vital necessity for journalism to assert free speech and guard fundamental rights.

“[Journalists] don’t only create content for fame or money, we produce news and stories to inform public opinion and policy, to ferret out the truth, and to hold power to account to keep the wheels of democracy turning,” said Araullo

He also emphasized the need for engaging in conversations in good faith, rather than dismissing those who disagree as ignorant or bribed, saying “We can start by listening to our community and involving them in meaningful conversations, not just to gather quotes, but also to gather sentiments and feelings. True, social media can be toxic for engagement, it can be tiring, and it can ruin your day. But a common mistake we commit is to dismiss those we fiercely disagree with as trolls. There is a real person behind every account, fake or verified. Many of them could still be persuaded through constructive interaction. In schools, around dining tables, in our neighborhood, or online chat groups, we can spark engagement behind the simple old values of honesty, respect, and compassion, which would allow us to engage responsibly and in good faith.”

Cruz shared her experience in implementing the ASEAN Digital Literacy Programme (ADLP) in the Philippines, particularly designing a laymanized learning experience on digital literacy that would resonate with Filipino grassroots communities called “#DigiTalino”.

She urged people to empathize with fellow FIlipinos, saying “It’s easy for us to express judgment whenever we hear or see someone sharing false information or when they have a very different view of reality than ours. It’s easy for us to snap and leave the conversation, but what we learned through ADLP is that compassion and empathy will go a long way. If we approach our kababayan with a compassionate and empathizing spirit rather than attacking [them], I think we can go further. No effort is too small.”

She also shared tips on how to tell someone that the post they shared was untrue or disinformation and cautioned against common scams found online or on mobile.

Billones highlighted the importance of working together to fight disinformation and to collectively protect democracy, prevent harm, promote transparency, and build trust in institutions and each other.

            Particularly, he pointed out that good faith communicators must frame disinformation in a non-political context, without being condescending. Researchers and academics must also recalibrate their approaches to be more community-based.

 “In civil society, meet them where they are, not where you are at. You have to make sure that you can transmit the message to the person you want to talk with,” said Billones.

The UST Media Leadership Lecture Series (MLLS) is an annual forum that takes a proactive stance in the current state of media, an advocacy of the Thomasian community to have relevant and responsive information regarding the emerging technology-driven news media landscape. This year, the theme was “The Academe, Church, Media, and Civil Society: A Multi-Sectoral Initiative in Countering Information Disorder in the Philippines”

“In these times where legitimate accountable journalism and the social networks that the majority of people access are increasingly challenged by disinformation campaigns, it is all the more vital to support and amplify informative, socially responsible, and reliable media voices. We also have to do our part and develop a keen sense of awareness to recognize falsehood where it appears around us, and break the chain of dis-, mis-, and malinformation spread by thinking before we post,” said UST Office of Public Affairs Director Asst. Prof. Joreen T. Rocamora, Ph.D., who offered an overview for the MLLS, one of UST OPA’s annual events.

Originally launched in 2017, included among the keynote speakers in previous installments of the UST-MLLS are: Catholic Media Network President Fr. Francis Lucas, Lahi Philippines President Jing Magsaysay, former ABSCBN Digital News Media Head Ms. Karen Puno-Igaya, and GMA documentary hosts Mr. Cesar Apolinario and Mr. Jay Taruc.

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