Emerging Threats: Post-truth and Alternative Facts

Washington-based think tank Freedom House classifies Philippine media as “partly free” and the Internet in the Philippines as “free.” This puts us among countries where the Internet is not censored but where falsehoods are deliberately spread online to undermine the public’s ability to make informed decisions. The Oxford Dictionary declared “post-truth” the 2016 Word of the Year because of the rise of public opinions based on personal and political convictions that reject and disregard facts. Post-truths, dubbed “alternative facts” by the infamous Counselor to the US President Kellyanne Conway, are incorrect/inaccurate statements that pose a threat to an informed community when amplified through social media, fake news websites, and trolls hiding behind multiple bogus accounts.

On June 2015, the New York Times magazine published an investigative piece which uncovered how the Russian government may have been the first to use troll agencies to tamper with the information people get online. Now, there are allegations that similar tactics may have been employed at the recent US and Philippine elections.

Traditional media, particularly the press, are also affected by the dangers presented by social media. A day after his January 20, 2017 inauguration, President Trump said that he has a “running war with media,” while soon after, Philippines’ Malacañang Press Corps released this statement:

“We are disturbed and appalled by the propensity of the officials of this administration to blame the media whenever the inflammatory statements of the president stir controversy or draw flak. This trend should stop as it would not contribute to the elevation of the level of public discourse.”

Restrictive laws and verbal or online attacks against news media are often justified by accusations of impartiality (“biased”) or spreading “negativity.” These restrictive laws have also been used to silence journalists reporting on government anomalies. Journalists are risking their lives doing what they are meant to do–to give relevant and meaningful information which can help the public make informed decisions. We only need to look at how the tyrants of the past cracked down on journalists and the media to know how dangerous it is when the public’s right to information is suppressed by the government.