HOW do you solve a problem like fake news?
This question wasn't asked out loud but instead heavily implied all throughout last Saturday's event with media personality Lourd de Veyra and University of Science and Technology of Southern Philippines professor and SunStar CDO columnist Nef Luczon titled “Debunking Fake News.”
Before I continue, it must be noted that Lourd has become a controversial figure as of late for his not being on board with the current administration's agenda, as evidenced by the comments on the event's Facebook page that my friend Lorenzo couldn't help but call “cancerous.”
While politically I have to agree to disagree with Lourd, it cannot be denied that the wholesale spreading of misinformation and disinformation isn't a problem pertaining to political affiliation: it is nothing less than the truth that is constantly under attack, after all. The truth does not take sides; it simply is. It may be a political issue, but fake news is a human issue most of all.
Our two speakers discussed many things pertaining to fake news, but what struck me the most was how ubiquitous fake news has gotten, and how the world wide web has turned into a veritable swamp teeming with all sorts of hucksters, trolls, and shills. Lourd especially took the time to single out the pro-administration media personality Mocha Uson, pointing out that there were times that she got the facts wrong but took to social media to spread the word anyway. However, that's not to say that Mocha isn't effective as a communicator: while she may be a politician now, Mocha was and still is an entertainer – a pop idol and glamour model, to be precise. It should come as no surprise that when it comes to latching onto people's attention, Mocha is deadly effective.
Moreover, Lourd shared screengrabs of fake news articles so preposterous; they'd be so funny if the consequences of putting them out weren't so dire. Ryan Holiday, self-confessed media manipulator a.k.a. fake news creator and author of Trust Me, I'm Lying (a book I highly recommend), had this to say about his old career: “The system eats up the kind of material I produce. So as the manufactured storm I created played itself out in the press, real people started believing it and it became true.” In other words, fake news has real consequences, and while certain parties do stand to benefit from such falsehoods, others end up losing money, careers, relationships, and sometimes even their sanity and their lives as a result. Overall, the consequences aren't lovely.
While fake news has exploded all over the world in recent years, I hesitate to call it a “recent” phenomenon because infidelity to the truth, both intentional and unintentional, has always been a problem ever since man learned to communicate. While shady websites are notorious generators of fake news that is not to say that legitimate and established news outlets aren't guilty of doing the same to advance ulterior agendas also. The rise of social media didn't cause fake news – if anything, it only amplified it and made it much, much worse.
That said, how do you solve a problem like fake news?
The solution I'd like to propose – which I also believe to be heavily implied during the Lourd/Nef event – is to take it personally.
I know what you're thinking. But by “taking it personally,” I don't mean getting simply all riled up about it, although I understand that it's perfectly normal for you to feel that way. What I'm saying that fake news (to say nothing of dishonesty in general) is a problem so deeply entrenched in the modern human condition that it cannot be solved by our society, much less its compromised institutions. Instead, it falls on each of us as individuals to consume media more discerningly. Therefore, the next time you go online, do make sure you look up “media literacy” and learn this extremely helpful and nowadays very relevant skill. I hope that teachers will include media literacy in the new curricula for social studies or English – or better yet, both – if they haven't already done so.
A great place to start when it comes to learning media literacy is St. Paul's timeless advice: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Fake news may have gotten ubiquitous, and overwhelmingly so; nevertheless, you must understand that it is very much within your power to be media literate and therefore on the side of truth.