In early 2022, Global Disinformation Index (GDI), a nonprofit created in 2018, noted that attacks on democracy accelerated around the world in 2021, and warned that it would continue this year. “The explosion of online misinformation has made it easier for those who seek to erode democratic standards,” the GDI said.
Misinformation has flooded the online space in the Philippines, especially during the recently concluded national and local elections. A month before the election, Meta Platforms Inc. said it took down a network of 400 Facebook accounts for inauthentic behavior, hacking and false engagement. In January, Twitter suspended more than 300 accounts for violating its anti-spam policy and promoting certain candidates.
Aside from the country’s slow internet speed, social media has revolutionized the way information is distributed and disseminated, which was once monopolized by television, radio and print media. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok have allowed anyone with a gadget and internet access to play the role of content creator and distributor without going through the rigorous process of fact checking. But the lack of a global standard on how to regulate social media sites without sacrificing free speech and user privacy has added threats to the democratic project and will have long-lasting effects on how the public consumes information online. To counter fake news, Facebook, for its part, has hired third-party organizations to help with its fact-checking program.
There is, however, one European country that has successfully tackled disinformation and misinformation: Finland. The country, which was ranked as Europe’s “most fake news resistant nation” in 2020, launched its anti-fake news initiative eight years ago. His strategy? Fake news has had to be tackled in elementary schools where it teaches young students media literacy and critical thinking. Said Jussi Toivanen, chief communications specialist for the Prime Minister’s Office: “The first line of defense is the kindergarten teacher.”
With a new administration soon taking over the reins of government – inheriting issues that plague the country’s entire education system, such as the low rankings of Filipino students in math, science and reading in the Program for International Student Assessment , among other things – he would help the new education secretary to pay attention to what Finland has done to raise a generation capable of thinking critically, verifying facts independently and evaluating whether the information consumed on media platforms are accurate.
Finnish students learn the methods used to deceive social media users: manipulation of images and videos, half-truths, intimidation, fake profiles, use of bots and “deepfake” or very realistic manipulated video or audio. Finland hasn’t just debunked misrepresentation; he also trained state officials to spot and then respond to fake news.
The Finnish government has also integrated media and digital literacy into its national curriculum. “In math class…students learn how easy it is to lie with statistics. In art, they see how the meaning of an image can be manipulated. In history, they analyze notable propaganda campaigns, while Finnish teachers work with them on the many ways words can be used to confuse, mislead and deceive,” journalist Jon Henley said in an article in line published by the Nordic Policy Center.
The goal, said Kari Kivinen, director of the French-Finnish school in Helsinki and former general secretary of the European Schools, is to have “active and responsible citizens and voters” who will think twice and check their sources. before sharing something on social media.
This is now the huge challenge that presumed vice-president Sara Duterte, the new education secretary, faces. But it’s not far from his dream of raising “a future generation of patriotic Filipinos (who) advocate peace and discipline in their respective communities.” In a statement last week accepting the education portfolio, she said she intended to focus on “producing skilled learners with the mindset to reach their full potential as than individuals”.
One way to achieve this as education secretary is for Duterte to institutionalize a program that teaches young students critical thinking and media literacy in the digital world, which has become an important platform where policies and programs can be shaped. For it is only through responsible, informed and engaged citizens, and not through anonymous trolls who spread disinformation and misinformation online, that the country can truly achieve its dream of being part of the developed world.
Fighting fake news
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