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Fact-checking social media

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IT was the quintessential example of how easy it is to be duped by internet hoaxes. On March 26, 2011, the Philippine Star published a piece by columnist Carmen N. Pedrosa under the headline “The most gullible people in the world —Harvard.”

In her column (still available online here:, Pedrosa—a veteran journalist, political analyst and author—quoted extensively from a Harvard study that found Filipinos to be the first among “the world’s most gullible races.”

“The causes of this gullibility include the inability to question information and an over-reliance on interpersonal sources,” she quoted the study as saying. “For Filipinos, a tsunami warning from the government does less than a mother’s directive to avoid the sea because of syokoys (mermen).”

She also quoted the study by the Harvard Institute of Socio-Political Progression, as saying: “What’s curious about the Filipino condition is that despite a respectable literacy rate, many of its people still believe that condoms cause cancer — or that Apollo Quiboloy, CEO of Kingdom of Jesus Christ, The Name Above Every Name, Inc. is the son of God.”

“This is a serious allegation we should not ignore,” Pedrosa wrote. “For those who do not have access to the internet I found this item in a blog called The Mosquito Press. It may seem like a trivial source but according to the authors the study involved content analyses of over 500,000 historical documents from 300 different societies. So we better take it seriously.”

Sadly for Pedrosa, she took The Mosquito Press—a satirical website that was active until 2013—way too seriously. There never was a Harvard study, and the Harvard Institute of Socio-Political Progression doesn’t even exist.

But Pedrosa need not feel too bad—even the Star’s main competitor, the Philippine Daily Inquirer screwed up big-time two years later, when it printed a bogus Time Magazine cover of then President Benigno Aquino III on the front page of its April 20, 2013 issue. The cover, which showed Aquino agape, was an internet meme that the Inquirer’s editors failed to vet.

More recently, a bogus news item that Disney would invest $350 million for Disneyland Philippines spread rapidly on Facebook as if it were fact.

To address problems like this, social networks and technology companies such as Facebook,Twitter, Google and YouTube have formed an alliance with news organizations such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed News, CNN, ABC News, Agence France-Presse, The Telegraph, International Business Times and Aljazeera, to filter out fake news and improve the quality of information on social networks.

The alliance, announced last week, will launch a platform where members can validate dubious news reports by the end of October, said Jenni Sargent, managing director of First Draft News, a Google-funded coalition that is behind the new partner network.

“Today we are announcing the expansion of First Draft to include a new partner network of over 30 major news and technology organizations to tackle issues of trust and truth in reporting information that emerges online,’ Sargent said on the First Draft website.

“Filtering out false information can be hard. Even if news organizations only share fact-checked and verified stories, everyone is a publisher and a potential source. We are not going to solve these problems over night, but we’re certainly not going to solve them as individual organizations.”

Organizations interested in joining the partner network can fill out a form on the First Draft website (, which includes essential news gathering and verification resources for journalists.

These include “A Journalist’s Guide to Working With Social Sources” that seeks to answer questions such as:

How should I contact a social source?

How should I word call-outs to eyewitnesses?

Do I have to get permission before I can use eyewitness media?

How should I contact eyewitnesses when I need to gain permission to use their media?

What happens if people take down their content?

The website also includes short video references on Mastering Google Search to find eyewitness media, How to use Tweetdeck for newsgathering, How to find tweets by location, and How to find geolocated videos on YouTube.

Local news organizations would certainly benefit from using these resources—and become less gullible in the process. Chin Wong

Column archives and blog at:


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