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How to check if online election-related information is reliable

Posted on May 19, 2016 at 5:35 AM

Beyond making people exercise their right to vote, the recently concluded elections have exposed a number of issues that should be of grave concern to most, if not all, of us.

 

Allow me to start with what has served as the gateway that sparked word wars, “unfriending”, “unfollowing”, and severance of ties and friendships at various unimaginable levels: the unparalleled use of the Internet.

 

While the Internet was already around during the 2010 elections, it was only during the 2016 elections that various political groups, together with their campaign strategists, supporters, and observers realized its full power and, thus, not only capitalized on, but also exploited it.

 

This can be explained by the fact that back in 2010, the voting public was generally just starting to educate themselves to familiarize themselves with the technology. The more senior members of society used it passively, while the younger ones, including those who later turned digital natives, explored it for entertainment and personal networking purposes.

 

In the 2016 elections, however, people turned to the Internet because of the realization that it holds immense power. And the rest was history.

 

It is that kind of history in the cyber world, however, that showed how people could be more than willing to fabricate, twist, and distort data, accept falsified information, share it publicly, and use it to mob others online. (READ: Highlights: #PHVote 2016 elections)

 

Exposed to the seemingly endless surge of online forums, memes, videos, images, blog sites, and fake social media accounts – majority of which were suffused with doctored content, unverified data, and unsubstantiated claims—many Internet users unfortunately took these hook, line, and sinker then shared them.

 

Through the Internet, the people fell prey to surveys, even if they were unreputable.

The Internet, in the context of the recently concluded elections, became an enabler that brought out the worst among its users. This is part of an ugly reality whose magnitude now all confronts every single Filipino: people gullible enought to accept information just because it has been published and has received the approval of many.

 

Surely, people will always look to education as the default solution. But the checklist below, adapted to the Philippine elections context, can help prevent some dangers.

 

Purpose

 

Figuring out the purpose of the online article you are reading helps determine motivation for producing the material. This can help you decide whether what the author is saying is fact, opinion, or plain propaganda.

 

Authority

 

Reliable material, more often than not, provides information about the author. A self-respecting author knows that credibility starts with being truthful about who s/he is. Every respectable author will always be willing to provide the public with his/her background, including his/her experience, credentials, and qualifications, among others. These pieces of information can help determine credibility.

 

Reliability

 

The real identity and/or purpose of a website, a social media account, or any online material can easily be detected based on the length of its cyber presence.

 

Other than the above indicators, content can be considered dependable if it, or its publisher, has been around for sometime already. If the publisher’s online presence is as short as, or even shorter than, the total campaign period (in the case of the recent national elections), then the probabillity that it is meant to serve a particular personal/political interest is higher.

 

Lastly, reliable material can be verified across numerous other sources. If in doubt, Google it and check if other sources say the same thing. If the search yields a zero result or if other sources do not support what the material says, junk it.

 

Coverage

 

See if the discussion seems to deliberately include or omit a specific piece of information. If it's an image or video, does it show the entirety or is it spliced?

 

While there may be audio or video splices whose information remains credible, others are deliberately cut to deceive the intended audience. The resolution of an image often indicates the need to red flag the material. Good materials rarely publish pixelated images. Professional publications never do this at all. Does the material claim to have been sourced from a supposed celebrity or public servant’s social media account?

 

A screenshot of someone else’s account, if the material claims to be legitimate, should be neat, not grainy. If it is, it must have gone through layers of editing. It must be fake.

 

Surely, the recently concluded elections turned out to be the most divisive and vicious state activity the country has ever witnessed. It has, in fact, made the various social media platforms one of the most hostile settings, especially during the last weeks leading to election day.

 

The Filipino electorate needs to understand that the pain, ties and relationships that got severed could have been avoided, if only people were responsible in their use of the Internet and social media. – This article first appeared on May 14, 2016 via Rappler.com


Categories: Writing, Politics

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