'Start them young': UP prof pushes for fact-checking lessons at elementary level

Rowegie Abanto, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 01 2022 05:05 PM

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MANILA — Fact-checking should be taught to elementary students to make them less susceptible to misinformation or "fake news," a communication professor said Wednesday.

"One thing that can be implemented is to teach children from elementary age the idea of fact-checking when they are critical in their assessment of sources on the internet... If we teach them how to think critically, then we have a better chance of (fighting) fake news.. All this trolling actually affect legitimate public discourse," said Prof. Rachel Khan, UP Diliman College of Mass Communication associate dean.

"We have to start them young."

Khan said such an approach had been successful in countries like Finland and Estonia. 

"Estonia is also a developing nation that came out from a communist regime that also operated on a lot of disinformation," she told ANC's Dateline Philippines.

"I do not see why we cannot replicate that method here... If they can do something, why can't we?" she said.

Experts said that the proliferation of years-long misinformation and disinformation had an impact in the results of the recently concluded polls. 

President-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., son and namesake of the late dictator, was accused of whitewashing his family's brutal history to reclaim the presidential palace. 

A fact-checking group had found that Marcos Jr. benefitted mostly from disinformation on social media, while his closest opponent Vice President Leni Robredo was the top target. 

The Marcos family has denied employing trolls to control the narrative in favor of them on social media, although they have expressed their desire to present their side of the story on issues thrown at them.

The problem of misinformation and disinformation can only be addressed through education in the long term, said Khan, adding that "the most basic thing is to be able to train elementary students to differentiate between fact and opinion."

Khan said the Philippines has both technical and educational knowledge to implement her proposal.

"It's something that we just have to have the will to carry out, and I think that is what should be encouraged," she said.

The Commission on Elections earlier said that it would urge lawmakers to pass a measure against the use of social media trolls during the campaign period.

Khan said pinpointing who the trolls are and who are the legitimate people with opinions would be difficult.

"I don't see we can easily detect trolls or troll activity without looking at the algorithms and the network behind it," she said.

The professor instead proposed to look into the public relations (PR) industry and check the services they offer. 

"Maybe regulation can be looked at from that angle to disallow inauthentic behavior activities from public relations firms, whether it's here or abroad," she said. "That activity and that of expense are easier to trace than actual people or to say this person is a troll or this person is not."

For Khan, regulation of social media, in general, should be avoided.

"Who will determine what is fake news and what is not? Without such clear guidelines, it can actually be used to silence legitimate news and the legitimate press," she said.

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