Journalism in the age of fake news | Inquirer Opinion
Human Face

Journalism in the age of fake news

In the bad news/good news section (depending) is Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre who earned the moniker “Fake News King” after the Akbayan Youth and Millennials Against Dictators filed a complaint against him at the Office of the Ombudsman. He objected to the label.

The group said Aguirre should be held administratively liable for violating the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials every time he makes erroneous claims against critics of President Duterte. Aguirre recently implicated opposition senators Bam Aquino and Antonio Trillanes IV in the Maute terror group’s Islamic-State-inspired attack on Marawi City that began on May 23.


King, prince, whatever. Aguirre has since apologized to the two senators, but blamed journalists and said he had cautioned them that the report was not validated.

The alarming thing is that false news is proliferating on the internet and in the mouths of newsmakers. Self-styled news providers who are actually prevaricators and purveyors of falsehood are preying on the gullible and undiscerning public.


The good news: In town is Sheila S. Coronel, cofounder of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and now dean of academic affairs of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She recently delivered a lecture, “Journalism in the Age of Fake News, Propaganda and Media Manipulation,” sponsored by the PCIJ.

Coronel presented the “new landscape of news and information.” That is: News media no longer have the monopoly on news creation and distribution. Audiences get their news no longer directly from the news media but from social media platforms. Massive market penetration of smartphones means that news—including fake news and misinformation — is constant and ubiquitous. Polarized politics means competing narratives and filter bubbles. In this environment, hyperpartisan, highly opinionated, fake news and propaganda go viral.

She gave examples of these and showed questionable and fake news sites that peddle information and with hidden agenda. So how is the news consumer to discern? In their desire to be ahead, even legitimate news sources fall for false information and end up red-faced. But the harm has been done.

Fake news sites, Coronel said, ride on tried and tested formulas — crime, entertainment, politics. And they look real, have exaggerated and misleading content, and expand the range of what is politically acceptable.

To be expected is a decline of trust in institutions — the Church, government, etc., and a loss of faith in mainstream media. For whatever reason, audiences sometimes consider the media partisan or elitist.

News media have their own mistakes — e.g., commercial imperatives (chasing clicks vs credibility), arrogance, blinders, support for elite narratives and indifference to issues concerning audiences. As audiences have access to more information, these flaws become more visible.

Decline in trust in news media tracks decline in trust in other institutions, including political parties, government and mainstream churches. The good news is that in this age of false news, the mainstream, legitimate media sources can strike back and rise above the fray because truth is always a needed, wanted, genuine commodity.


For journalists and news consumers: fact checking (Snopes), exposure of fake news, research and propagation of verification techniques, more contextual and critical reporting of news, media literacy, innovative, tech-savvy engagement, emotional skepticism. And remember: Just because it feels right and conforms with what you believe does not mean it’s true. Take responsibility for what you communicate to others.

Coronel also discussed, among others, technological solutions and threats against journalists. She suggested sites that should aid journalists in this age of fake news:

First Draft News: guides on verification, misinformation and new literacy

Bellingcat’s Digital Forensics Tools: First Draft founding partner reveals its verification and investigation tools, resources and methods in this open-source Google Doc.

The Intercept’s Surveillance Self Defense Checklist maximizes security.

The Listening Post Collective: resources, tools, peer-to-peer support and a shared learning space for journalists, newsroom leaders and community groups that want to revitalize local news and information ecosystems.

Data and Society, Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online analyzes patterns of disinformation and manipulation in America.

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TAGS: Akbayan Youth, fake news, Human Face, Inquirer Opinion, Journalism, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, Office of the Ombudsman, PCIJ, Vitaliano Aguirre
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