Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — A 2014 survey found that Facebook — the most used social media platform in the world — is also the top source of political news for millennials.
Yet over the past few years, the social network has become embroiled in many a scandal, from the Cambridge Analytica data harvesting and fake Russian accounts (which are said to have been used to sway public opinion on the U.S. elections) to the role of the Facebook-owned messaging app WhatsApp in the spread of rumors and eventual mob-lynching against alleged child kidnappers in India. Just this September, another Facebook data breach exposed over 50 million users’ information and led to forced logouts.
Here in the Philippines, Facebook has been criticized for its role in President Duterte’s campaign win, as well as its current state as a hotbed of fake news and misinformation, and its abundance of troll accounts that have been known to harass and attack users.
Arguably every major news organization, publication, and even campus paper, has established its own social media presence, as it holds the power to reach billions of users in seconds. But with all the political scandals, misinformation, and privacy breaches that are happening left and right, is public trust in social media eroding, especially in its role as a news source?
On a recent visit to the Philippines to give a talk at DigiCon 2018, CNN business and technology correspondent Samuel Burke sat down with five campus journalists to discuss the impact of social media, Facebook in particular, on both media practitioners and consumers of news in the Philippines.
Joining him in the roundtable discussion were Michelle Abad, editor-in-chief of the Ateneo de Manila University’s student publication, The Guidon, Christian Deiparine, editor-in-chief of the University of Sto. Tomas’ The Varsitarian, Marissa Castro, editor-in-chief of Far Eastern University’s The Advocate, Kara Patalinghog, editor-in-chief of De La Salle University’s The LaSallian, and Richard Cornelio, managing director of the University of the Philippines’ Rebel Kule.
Pertaining to the rise of misinformation on social media on a global scale, Burke asked the students if the situation was different in the Philippines.
“I think that every country varies when it comes to their political climate, and that affects the way people see social media,” said Abad, who shared that, in a recent conference abroad, she learned about the difference of press freedom in other countries.
“In the UK, some of them said that they don't feel that there's a lot of restrictions on their press freedom when compared to here. Because for example, when some news organizations, or even student campus journalists, try to become critical of the government, [there are] people [who] automatically assume that you're fake.”
Burke noted that the concept of “fake news” has indeed become co-opted by some, changing its meaning from websites that impersonate other websites to something else entirely. “Because we've seen people like President Trump take the term and use it for his own purposes, now even the term isn't clear anymore and can be used in all types of directions,” said Burke.
Castro also pointed out the dangers of citizen journalism, and how it has made it difficult for both consumers to identify between news coming from legitimate sources and unverified sites.
“[It is] harder to compete with all the sources of information because everyone is their own media right now,” said Castro. “Because you have so much competition, everyone can post without verification if the data is correct, and if you want to deliver news to your community, you really have to act faster.”
As CNN’s first social media producer, Burke shared that when he was just starting out, he believed that social media was much more a benefit to the organization, especially because of how it was helping them bring the news to more people at a much faster rate. But today, Burke says that he is not so sure whether it remains to create a positive impact on the industry.
“At this point, where I'm reporting on fake news everyday, I think, I wouldn't say it's a negative, but I'd say we're at a net zero,” said Burke. “We spend just as much time getting positive from social media as we do negative, trying to check fake news, call them out, make sure we're serving people that way.”
When asked whether they felt the same way, Patalinghog responded by saying that though it is good to now have that ability to put out stories at a faster pace, there’s the danger of journalists being the catalysts of misinformation themselves.
“Everyone tries to put out the story fast, but then I don't think that a lot of people go into depth with their stories anymore because they want to get it fast,” said Patalinghog. “Which leaves a bigger responsibility for digital media journalists. Are we telling the whole story when we're telling it this fast?”
With all of this in mind, Burke led the discussion towards proposing solutions to avoid these problems in the future and to ensure that Filipino consumers become more informed. Here are some of the solutions discussed by the journalists:
Journalists need to step up their game.
“For journalists, we have to be responsible that we put out the whole story, all the sides of the story,” said Patalinghog.
“We have to step up our game,” added Burke. “The rule that we always learn in journalism school, which we adhere to at CNN is, check. From not one source, not two sources, three sources. But now, because the president is criticizing us so often, sometimes it's four, five sources.”
Bring digital literacy to schools.
The group theorized that part of the reason why many Filipinos fall for fake news is because of a lack of access to better education, and therefore, digital literacy.
“I think the [rise of disinformation] comes from the lack of free and genuine education in the country,” said Cornelio. “Because a lot of our electorate do not know how to recognize fake news or sensationalist propaganda that they see on the internet from what is actually true news or [from] a legit and verifiable news source.”
“There's a big responsibility on the educational sector to make sure that everyone is media literate,” said Abad. “I noticed that in my curriculum, I'm a Communication student, we have our own lessons on how to spot fake news. But it isn't just the media students who should be learning these things. Everyone is prone and everyone is exposed to social media.”
Burke added that in the U.S., there are initiatives bringing digital literacy to classrooms to teach kids as young as second graders, suggesting that this could be applied here as well.
The onus is on social media companies.
Whether intentionally or not, the social media platforms that we use are the conduits for misinformation. As per Burke, there’s only so much that citizens can do, saying that it should be the responsibility of these companies to ensure that fake news does not spread.
“A company like Facebook is making hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more. They have the money to do it,” said Burke. “And now it's time for them. The transparency has to start with them. And they have to give us the tools as journalists.”
Watch the full discussion below.