WE USED to know it as the big lie, a propaganda technique which Adolf Hitler formulated in his opus Mein Kampf. In it, the German dictator promoted the deliberate use of lies so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”
But that was so last century. This is the 21st century. The “big lie” has been rebranded into “fake news.” Same dog, different collar.
And the vector of the big lie – or fake news – is social media. In biology, a vector is an organism, typically a biting insect or tick that transmits a disease or parasite from one animal or plant to another.
The intention of this fake news is to gather steam, incubate these lies in social media until it goes viral.
But the target of fake news is not media per se but the undiscriminating public. Ask the British reporter David Barnett of the Independent, “Are we so keen to contribute to the fakeness by retweeting instead of questioning?” Or to quote RR Tolkien in his foreword to his spiritual novel the Lord of the Rings, “The tale grew in the telling.”
Last year, Ariel Sebellino, the executive director of the Philippine Press Institute came to town, upon the invitation of the Negros Press Club (NPC). Ariel held a seminar on “Let’s Get Real on Fake News.”
I’m a SunStar columnist, not a news reporter. But I have been an investigative reporter, done my homework, research and multiple checking from different sources. I triangulate the stories of key informants inside the provincial jail and even the mountain barangay of San Carlos. I used the techniques I learned in community forestry doing rapid rural appraisals.
I worked with Ariel on an investigate reporting on a USAID-funded human rights project on EJK (extra-judicial killing) cold cases. I checked blotter reports, went to the Commission on Human Rights, even back issues of local newspapers, and interviewed both the suspects and the family of victims in San Carlos and Calatrava.
Now comes the real challenge. Says Ariel to the NPC seminar, “the advent of fake news, alternative facts or simply outright lies, clearly outrights this troubling reality that is rewriting public debate, and societies at large, in the digital age.”
He added: “In the Philippines and elsewhere in the world, the proliferation of fake news is polarizing society and deepening the political divide. This, at a time when people should be reaping increasing digital dividends not only to enhance their individual and collective well-being but also to ensure more responsive, efficient, and transparent public governance.”
Recently, Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar has assured senators that he would try to reach out to President Rodrigo Duterte’s online supporters to stop spreading misinformation and hate speech in social media.
Let’s see how PCOO can stop the spread of fake news or the big lies.