MANILA, Philippines — With the “infodemic” threatening to sway voters in the May elections, the country’s top universities are again taking the lead in a massive collaborative fact-checking initiative to combat election-related disinformation.
On Monday, the University of the Philippines (UP) revived Tsek.ph, an alliance of 23 academic, media and civil society organizations committed to identifying and flagging disinformation on social media.
First set up in 2019 during the midterm elections, the alliance was revived “to make it in time for the 2022 elections,” said project co-coordinator Rachel Khan, associate dean of the UP College of Mass Communication.
“Since 2019, disinformation has multiplied exponentially especially during the pandemic, with everybody dependent on social media for news and information,” Khan said in an interview.
“As such, it has become more imperative to address the growing problem,” she said.
Through its partner organizations, Tsek.ph will verify and fact-check election issues, such as candidates’ platforms and campaign promises; election-related statements and remarks, and election-related posts on social media and other online platforms, Khan explained.
Each partner organization will conduct its own fact-checking initiative, and the data will then be pooled to the Tsek.ph secretariat, she said.
The project uses five ratings in classifying claims: accurate (demonstrably factual); false (demonstrably contrary to available facts); misleading (gives a vague/different impression); no basis (cannot be verified or fact-checked); and needs context (requires more facts or clarification).
Among Tsek.ph’s partners are the Asian Center for Journalism at Ateneo de Manila University, Colegio de San Juan de Letran, Trinity University of Asia Communication Department, UP Los Baños, UP Department of Journalism’s Fact Check Patrol and FactRakers, and University of Santo Tomas Journalism Program.
It has also teamed up with media organizations such as ABS-CBN, Baguio Chronicle, dzUP, FYT, Interaksyon, MindaNews, PhilStar Global, Philippine Press Institute, Press One, Probe and VERA Files, as well as a number of civil society organizations that advocate media literacy.
Tsek.ph is supported by the UP System, Google News Initiative, UP Department of Journalism, and UP College of Mass Communication Foundation.
With universities at the helm of efforts to identify and flag disinformation, the emphasis now is that media literacy and fact-checking are “already permanent [needs] and not just a trend,” Khan said.
By training and exposing academic institutions to the initiative, the team hopes to mobilize them for disinformation research and to get them to lobby for disinformation and media literacy courses in their respective curriculums.
According to Khan, the 2022 project is guided by the team members’ 2019 experience, which taught them “where to look [and] how to pinpoint where the disinformation is coming from.”
During the midterm elections, the team members became familiar with the insidious techniques used by disinformation networks to seed false narratives, such as deleting the original posts to make these untraceable, she said.
“One of our main takeaways from [that time] was that you can’t just monitor it on a weekly basis. You have to look at it daily,” she said. “Otherwise, you miss those things and you won’t be able to address the issue.”
The team members have also begun to pivot from text-based fact-checks to more interactive content, in order to make fact-checks more engaging to the audience, Khan said.
(This article, written by Krixia Subingsubing, was first published in the Inquirer.NET Website on January 26, 2022)