In this webinar, Dr Edson C. Tandoc Jr., Dr Ma. Diosa Labiste and Ms Yvonne T. Chua examined fact-checking in the Philippines and unpacked the connections between technology and disinformation in a polarised environment.
MEDIA, TECHNOLOGY & SOCIETY PROGRAMME WEBINAR
Friday, 23 June 2023 – In this webinar organised by the Media, Technology, and Society (MTS) Program of ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, leading journalism studies researchers on the Philippines discussed the current state and future possibilities for fact-checking in the country. They considered the role of these initiatives in countering digital disinformation beyond elections and towards the broader context of a country with a perniciously polarised online political ecosystem.
The webinar featured Dr. Edson C. Tandoc Jr., who is Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Information Integrity and the Internet (IN-cube) at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; Dr. Ma. Diosa Labiste, who is Associate Professor at the Department of Journalism, College of Mass Communication, University of the Philippines-Diliman; and Ms. Yvonne T. Chua, who is Associate Professor at the Department of Journalism, College of Mass Communication, University of the Philippines-Diliman.
Dr. Edson Tandoc opened the webinar with his talk “Checking on Fact-checking”. Dr Tandoc provided an overview of opportunities and challenges regarding the effectiveness of contemporary fact-checking initiatives. Drawing on insights from empirical work that he and his research collaborators have done across different Southeast Asian cities, including the Philippine capital of Manila, he underscored encouraging indicators of people’s increasingly pro-active stance towards fake news online. He also pointed out what experiments show to be potential ways of improving fact-checking strategies, such as doing fact-checks in one-on-one rather than group settings and putting out fact-checks that provided longer rather than shorter arguments. At the same time, Dr Tandoc said that there continue to be challenges to current fact-checking initiatives, particularly about their reach, the reactions they elicit in people, and their focus on piecemeal solutions like one-off fact checks of individual items. To get beyond these, he suggests that we pay attention to changing news consumption patterns of people vis-à-vis the changing nature of fake news, the cultural dynamics that shape how people engage with fact-checks, and to the importance of not only checking specific facts but also larger myths and narratives circulating in society.
In Dr Diosa Labiste’s talk, “The future of fact-checking in the Philippines”, she mapped out the possibility of how fact-checking can be linked to broader movements against disinformation. Dr Labiste said that whilst fact-checking can be seen as an outgrowth of journalism’s organic practice of accuracy and verification, it was also a popular movement performed with a high degree of autonomy by various actors. She argued that there could be a possibility of political alignment of goals between the people engaged in these two “camps” of fact-checking: journalists on the one hand and advocacy fact-checkers on the other hand. She pointed out that, indeed, there was a growth of fact-checking initiatives under the regime of former president Rodrigo Duterte. Collaborative fact-checking grew from 14 partners from media and academe during the 2019 midterm elections to 34 partners from media, academe, and civil society in the 2022 general elections. Dr. Labiste said that this growth of grassroots organisations might tip the balance of forces towards the emergence of a social movement against disinformation. It can also link fact-checking to grassroots-based issues and other forms of activism. Its critique of platform capitalism and data colonisation can, for instance, broaden the vista of anti-disinformation beyond platform-based fact-checking.
For Ms Yvonne T. Chua’s talk, she presented on “Growing a community: The future of fact-checking in the Philippines”. Ms Chua recounted the growth of fact-checking in the Philippines. She talked about the increase in active fact-checking groups from 3 in the 2016 national elections to 10 in the 2019 midterm elections to 25 in the most recent 2022 national elections; the growth of International Fact Checking Network (IFCN) signatories from 2 in 2017 to 5 in 2023; and the recent emergence of two fact-checking collaboration initiatives, namely Tsek.ph and #FactsFirstPH, as well as the fact-checking mentoring initiative Philippine Fact-Checker Incubator. Ms Chua detailed the activities of these three initiatives. She said that they have led more fact-check articles, varied topics, local languages, platforms, formats. They have also allowed for fact-checks to have greater reach and public awareness. Ms Chua outlined the continued challenges to fact-checking in the Philippines, related to the projects’ ad hoc or one-time initiatives, sustainability, funding, standards, and manpower as well as the project participants’ skills, and experiences of threats and attacks. She concluded by emphasising the contribution of fact-checking to the many other strands of counter-disinformation work, from fact checks PLUS+ (that is, explainers, analyses, investigations, and prebunking), to media and information literacy (MIL), to academic research, to policymaking, and to advocacy.
During the lively Q and A, the webinar participants asked questions about, amongst other things, how to address the increasingly complex nature of fake news, what new fact-checking collaborations and initiatives might offer, and what the role of trust in media in fact-checking might be.