Let us take back fact-checking from Maria Ressa's distorted yellow journalism

Thursday April 26, 2018 ()

They say that truth is non-negotiable, and that facts are absolute and uncontestable.

However, except for scientific facts and mathematical assertions, it appears that what we consider as "facts" or "truth" may in fact be social constructions that are shaped by the power structures that govern their production.

This is precisely why one of the instruments for elite rule is for them to control the production of narratives, even the writing of history. Certain truths are necessarily constructed to lend legitimacy to a dominant world view, and the power of the elites is manifested in the manner by which these constructed truths gain credibility and are accepted to be unassailable.

Maria Ressa

The writing of history and the construction of social narratives are always reserved for the triumphant winners, never for the vanquished losers. This is precisely why the post-EDSA political landscape was dominated by the images and representations of a saintly Cory and a heroic Ninoy. The Marcos era was totalized as a demonic, dark phase of our history, painted as hopelessly mired in corruption and cast as being beyond redemption.

This is the mythology of power upon which the Filipino elites felt so comfortably entrenched, as their homing ground and comfort zone to recuperate after being maimed and marginalized by Marcos' martial rule. The lies that they have to tell were necessary for them to maintain the coherence of their political narrative. Marcos is definitely not a saint, but to paint him as entirely evil was necessary to justify the deification of the equally flawed Aquino-Cojuangco bloodline. Any elitist project will always have to deploy a polarity, a dualism between good and evil to simplify an otherwise complex political landscape populated by three- dimensional narratives and characters. Thus, Ninoy's alleged heroism and Cory's constructed sainthood had to be painted over with Ferdinand Marcos' image of total evil, as if the latter had no redeeming quality. The sins of Ninoy and the pettiness and failures of Cory had to be hidden if only to make the burden of ruling less taxing on those who subsisted on constructed heroism and lies.

Fact-checking is a necessary tool to exorcise the historical and political narratives of these lies. Ideally, it should be used as a weapon by those whose narratives and truths have been silenced by the dominant elite constructs imposed by the post-Marcos elites. Fact-checking should be on the side of those that have been lied to. It should be used to uncover the socially constructed heroism of Ninoy and the piety and benevolence of Cory.

Necessarily, it should also be used to uncover and recover our true history, rescued from partisan agenda to totally demonize anything not yellow, and to present our history as a complex interplay of flawed, imperfect characters and figures who are not totally saints, but also not totally evil.

Fact-checking is supposed to be the property of a people seeking authenticity in our past and present so that we can carve a future that is not based on lies, and not resting on the narratives of demi-gods and false idols. Unfortunately, the task of fact-checking has been commandeered and appropriated by the very same forces that deployed the yellow-colored misrepresentations in our history. What should have been the weapon to rescue us from partisan mythologies was hijacked to become the very tool used to delegitimize alternative narratives. And done with Marcos, they now target President Rodrigo Duterte for total demonization.

In the face of elite capture of the apparatuses for the production and distribution of public information, the onset of the internet and social media has offered a fertile ground to subvert these dominant elite narratives. Social media have democratized access to the production and consumption of political narratives and have offered a compelling challenge to the mainstream media routes upon which public life is written and told about.

It is however tragic that the democratization of these venues of expression has articulated with the organic nature of ordinary forms of resistance, that included rumor and anonymous character assassination. Social media became a fertile ground for the popularization and spread of unvetted information. People who before were mere readers of elite narratives now enjoy the freedom to participate in the production of public political discourse but end up unwittingly becoming bearers and sharers of misinformation, disinformation and propaganda.

It is indeed unfortunate that the democratizing structures of the internet and social media which enabled the voices of the ordinary citizens to be articulated, and to critique the elite discourses, are also the very platforms which provided the opportunity for the elites to fight back. Faced with threats of reduced engagements and declining profitability, seen in mainstream print and broadcast media being out-rated by social media blogging sites, Maria Ressa vowed to take back the internet.

It is painful to watch how Rappler, as a purveyor of yellow elite journalism that has long distorted the authenticity of our narratives, has joined Vera Files as the only media groups accredited by the International Fact Checking Network (IFCN).

It is indeed tragic that fact-checking, which is supposed to be the weapon of ordinary people to check lies perpetuated by elites, is now appropriated and hijacked by media organizations that have a record of serving the agenda of the same elites. More tragic is that this happens in a social media landscape whose democratic spaces have provided a venue for people to freely express their rage against these elites, but unfortunately have also fallen prey to the unbridled consumption and spread of falsehoods and fakery.

But all is not lost for the ordinary people. The way to fight these elite, yellow fact-checkers is to deny them the pleasure of fact-checking us. This can be done by capacitating the ordinary people to become critical users of the internet, and to be more discerning of what we post and share. And it would not hurt if we give yellow fact-checkers a dose of their own medicine by fact-checking every grammatical, factual error that they commit. We should also reveal their partisan biases, and make Facebook realize that, like fake news, these biased fact-checkers also threaten truth.

Maria Ressa wanted to take back the internet. It's about time we take back fact-checking from journalists like her.

Sources:

  • Let us take back fact-checking from Maria Ressa, Antonio Contreras, April 26, 2018, The Manila Times

(This article is adapted from the source listed above. We are unable to grant permission for any kind of reproduction other than social media shares.)


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