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Teaching history in the digital age

“Hindi ito na-discuss sa amin nung nagaaral pa ako ah. Ngayon sa TikTok ko lang malalaman.” (This was not discussed with us when I was still studying. I only found it now through TikTok.)

As a social science teacher and a self-confessed history junkie, when I came across this viral comment about the Marcos infrastructure “legacies” being touted on social media as a testament to Marcos’ alleged remarkable leadership, my heart sank. It was supposed to be just another TikTok content, but to me it was disturbing.

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As we can see now, the power of social media has been utilized, and weaponized, for all the wrong reasons. Its accessibility and convenience are being taken advantage of by interest groups to sensationalize and distort historical information. Since social media heavily favors visually appealing or highly provocative content, content creators tend to exploit people’s curiosity by using clickbait titles or thumbnails for the sake of virality. The goal is to convince and push people into thinking a certain way by stirring their emotions and imaginations.

Furthermore, because social media fosters an environment where anyone can freely engage and participate, highly questionable versions of history can thrive and go uncontested in the name of free speech. The abuse of the catchphrase “everyone is entitled to their own opinion” can spiral into groupthink and mob mentality. This also reinforces the postmodern view that history is relative and never absolute. Thus, we now witness the continuous reinterpretation, reframing, and reimagination of controversial issues in our country’s history, such as martial law and the people power revolution, to supposedly uncover the “unbiased” and “unblemished” truth.

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The democratization of historical discourse via social media has likewise paved the way for individuals and institutions to promote their vested interests and naked political agenda. Due to the disappearance of authoritative framing in social media, platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and the currently rising TikTok are deliberately being taken advantage of to spread historical disinformation, put forward ideologies, and even to amass profit. There are reports emerging of organized groups, unleashed by both public and private parties, that are behind the proliferation of online fake news, troll farms, and Red-tagging, all of which ultimately undermine our democratic values and processes.

It is clear that the problem lies not in the ability of the Filipino youth to use and navigate these emerging digital technologies, but on how they consume and handle intelligently the information presented to them. Considering the scale of the problem of historical disinformation on social media, I believe that one of the most crucial responsibilities of educators is to help students filter information coming from these digital sources. Students must be trained to discern between factual and inaccurate presentations of history. This will eventually enable them to become more nuanced and independent users of digital information, and be good at making judgments with regard to the reliability and trustworthiness of information from a range of sources, both online and offline.

But students are not the only ones who need to be properly educated about digital literacy. History teachers ought to be retooled and retrained as well in the use of these ICT applications to keep them abreast of the latest technological trends and developments. As educators, we should not allow ourselves to be caught off guard by the rapidly changing technological and educational landscape. We should also remain receptive to change in order to improve our delivery of instruction.

Finally, in a society that has rapidly descended into the “post-truth” era, perhaps the best way to combat online historical distortion is to address it with the very means by which it flourishes. This entails engaging in these platforms as well, creating content that will counteract and correct just as quickly the spread of historical disinformation.

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John Patrick P. Habacon is a sociology major and a social science instructor at the Lyceum of the Philippines University-Laguna.

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TAGS: Digital age, education, History, marcos, TikTok
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