MANILA, Philippines — According to Psychology and Society, “confirmation bias refers to the tendency to selectively search for and consider information that confirms one’s beliefs.” Science tells us that evolution has wired our brains to be judgmental for the right reason — to keep us from danger. In today’s world of clashing beliefs and “truths,” the common Filipino struggles to select a position, sieving through a heap of information and perspectives from various sources, including key opinion leaders.

 We interviewed Filipino social media influencers not to further fan the flame, but to enlighten the readers on their role as an important element in today’s communication process. The Philippine Star interviewed James Deakin, Agot Isidro, Sass Rogando Sasot, lawyer Bruce Rivera, lawyer Jesus Falcis, Marcelo Landicho a.k.a The Professional Heckler, and Pinoy Ako Blog’s Jover Laurio.

Marcelo Landicho

(The Professional Heckler)

In your own words, define a social media influencer.

A social media influencer is an individual who has built a name or reputation while pursuing a certain passion in social media. In the process, s/he gains a considerable online following. His/her popularity allows him/her to shape and influence public opinion.

 What is your beat and favorite topics/ themes?

My social media posts are mostly about sociopolitical issues although I am also into sports and pop culture. My political humor blog which started in 2004 is still active. The blog pokes fun at Philippine politics.

 Has fake news become prevalent in your beat?

Definitely.

 How do you sift the truth from propaganda/fake news/slanted news?

Discernment is key. For me, the first step is knowing the source of the news. If you’re not familiar with the site or the creator, verify the information by checking out reputable news sites.

Online propagandists in the Philippines have been using mostly photo memes to push for their political agenda. Do not share or repost them unless the story has been proven to be authentic.

 How do you see your role as a responsible influencer?

I have been writing satire and political humor for more than a decade now. Fortunately, my followers and loyal readers are smart enough to understand that satire is just a device I use to express my views on sociopolitical issues.

A responsible influencer must be credible. People may or may not share your views all the time but if they trust you, they will remain a follower or a reader.

It is the duty of a responsible Filipino influencer to stop the proliferation of false information online. Credible fact checkers have been doing that of late. Help them by sharing the results of their study.

Unfortunately, a number of social media influencers in the Philippines, especially in politics, have become willing tools of hate, lies and deceit. In a charged political climate, they have decided to tweet for talent fee, blog for bucks, post for profit.

 How do you challenge certain biases that readers already have?

Changing a strongly held perception or bias is a difficult task, almost impossible even. It won’t happen overnight.

Last year, on Facebook, I opted to unfriend some people or limit their access to my timeline just because we have differing opinions on politics. I realized it didn’t address my concern. Their bias would still be there. So I made my account public. I believe that giving them access to my posts is the first step toward educating or informing them. Isolating people who disagree with you will not help your cause. Let them read you. Make them think. Or as millennials and the Gen Z would say, “trigger” them.

 

Jover Laurio (Pinoy Ako Blog)

In your own words, define a social media influencer.

A social media influencer is a netizen who has a large audience, one who can influence others because of truthfulness and credibility. However, not every social media influencer tells the truth; there are many who use their position for money and lie to their followers.

 What is your beat and favorite topics/ themes?

My favorite theme is debunking fake news, especially if it was spread by an influencer or someone who works in the government. Government officials have a bigger responsibility to tell the truth because they are paid by the citizens of this country.

 Has fake news become prevalent in your beat?

Yes. Fake news is like a disease. If it’s not corrected or called out, it can spread rapidly.

 How do you sift the truth from propaganda/fake news/slanted news?

The truth will always be the truth, no matter who says it.  We need to cross-reference everything to check the veracity of the information, to make sure that the information came from legit sites. Propaganda is considered to be slanted news and sometimes considered fake news because it conditions people to adapt to an agenda. Depending on the source, you will immediately see if the information is propaganda or not.

How do you see your role as a responsible influencer?

As a responsible influencer, all of your posts should be truthful. If ever you committed a mistake, you should not be afraid to correct this and to ask for forgiveness. As a social media influencer, you should be serious about your responsibilities to your audience because they look up to you. You have to be brave, especially when you’re a political blogger like me. There are people who may not agree with your opinions and for this, you will receive hate messages and death threats. I have to have a stomach for it. As long as I am on the side of the truth, I can just inhale courage and exhale fear every day.

  How do you challenge certain biases that readers already have?

With politics, you cannot avoid biases especially with the political environment we have now. But if you post the truth, no one can break that. I practice “receipt culture,” wherein I can show that I am telling the truth through the receipts or evidences that can back my posts. With fake news, no matter what your political leanings are, you shouldn’t believe it. You can be biased with your views but the truth will always be the truth, no matter what one’s biases are.

 

Agot Isidro

In your own words, define a social media influencer.

 An influencer is a personality who can put an idea or a product out there, that persuades or elicits a reaction from an audience.

What is your beat or favorite topics/ themes?

 For my public accounts, my Instagram is work, hobbies, life in general. My Twitter is all about politics. It is the noisiest, too.

Has fake news become prevalent in your beat?

 I see a lot of posts being shared that are totally fake, and have been on the receiving end of it, too.

How do you sift the truth from propaganda/fake news/slanted news?

 I look for facts. I read from responsible and legitimate news sources. I click on articles, read it carefully. It is also important to know what is opinion, investigative reporting and developing.

How do you see your role as a responsible influencer?

 I look for legitimate sources then read them, I don’t just share. I don’t use profanities. I may be harsh in some of my tweets, but all with a little sense of humor.  I don’t engage with trolls.

How do you challenge certain biases that readers already have?

I notice that if they can’t make an argument, they resort to nonsense attacks. Most of them are that way. Just recently, I have started blocking them. I realized that even after two years of 20,000 deaths, rising prices, misogyny, corruption, incompetent leaders, etc., they still think that way; there is no room for any logical reasoning.

 

Atty. Jesus Falcis

In your own words, define a social media influencer.

A social media influencer is one who can effectively persuade a sizeable number of people to adopt the influencer’s opinion or viewpoint on an issue or personality. He/she is someone who is credible and trustworthy.

What is your beat and favorite topics/ themes?

My favorite topics to blog about are issues involving the law, politics and LGBT rights.

 Has fake news become prevalent in your beat?

Well, definitely. People with vested interests, such as politicians and oligarchs, in legal and political outcomes want to manipulate public opinion in their favor so they spend money hiring trolls and PR firms to create and disseminate fake news.

 How do you sift the truth from propaganda/fake news/slanted news?

I check the facts using multiple news sources and not just trust or rely on one article or report. I also try to watch videos, if there are any, where a politician’s quip is quoted from or where the news is based on.

 How do you see your role as a responsible influencer?

My role is to exercise my power and influence focused mainly on providing opinions and analysis on an issue rather than providing news content so as to differentiate citizen journalism from traditional journalism. But when there are times that I have to provide the news by covering events through tools such as FB live, I have to conduct the same rigor as professional journalists in pursuing the truth.

 How do you challenge certain biases that readers already have?

I deploy proven tools in science based on researches about human cognitive biases. Sometimes I appeal to their own biases to convince them to change their existing positions. Sometimes, I appeal to a higher value they believe in to override their existing (lower) biases. Sometimes, I don’t even try to challenge their biases and just agree to disagree but I always do so pleasantly and non-confrontational so they will be disarmed.

 

Sass Sasot

In your own words, please define a social media influencer.

A social media influencer is someone who has the guts to propagate her perspectives using current information communication technologies, and in the process, gain a following.

Please share with us your beat or favorite topics/ themes.

National political issues, international relations, statecraft, secularism and LGBT issues, particularly transgender rights.

Has fake news become prevalent in your beat?

No.

How do you sift the truth from propaganda/fake news/slanted news?

I’m a political realist. I see society as a constant struggle for power. But I don’t see this struggle in a moralist sense, which adjudges it as something evil; or in a wishful thinking way, a belief in the ability of humanity to transcend this struggle and live in such a way that power becomes irrelevant in their day-to-day living. This struggle for power is just a main feature of the human condition, it’s just what it is. As such, I know that propaganda and slanted news are part of the political process: they are tools of people in pursuit of their interests in a sea of diverse folks who could hinder their success in achieving them.

Truth is not necessarily separate from propaganda but can be produced by propaganda circulated by people in their struggle for power. French philosopher Michel Foucault stressed this circular relationship before: “Truth is linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which extend it.”

As one of the etymologies of the word propaganda states it: it is simply the “material or information propagated to advance a cause, etc.” So, “sifting” truth from propaganda, if it’s possible at all, is akin to sifting the facts from the cause for which the facts are being marshalled. So my approach toward propaganda is not the same approach a philosopher or scientist has over his/her fields. My approach towards propaganda is the same approach of a chess player towards the pieces on the board: I value them strategically. I evaluate the cause for which the facts are being mobilized. As I observed, there are causes worthy of being achieved even if it means bending the facts (such as by lying) to serve them. For example: some people would lie (a morally reprehensible act) in order to save a life.

How do you see your role as a responsible influencer?

Two ways: 1) By making sure that any statement that I utter, whose purpose is to provoke people into action, is based on a reasonable reading of facts and an educated and realist understanding of how the world really works; and 2) By being true to the causes I believe in that would help the motherland move forward: neutral foreign policy akin to Finland’s foreign policy; the advancement of the secularism; decolonization of the South China Sea conflict; and the advancement of the rights of trangender people in the Philippines.

How do you challenge certain biases that readers already have?

As a political realist, I do this by dispelling the unrealism of some people regarding how the world really works.

 

James Deakin

In your own words, define a social media influencer.

 Personally, I’m uncomfortable with the term. But labels aside, I see a social media influencer as an instrument to promote a better society by using whatever fame or voice they’ve been given to be an advocate for positive change, like promoting good causes, charities, social issues and other topics that really need a spotlight.

In my case, I try to focus on transport issues. Obviously, there’s also a commercial side to it, which is representing brands. And I don’t see anything wrong with that so long as there’s transparency and/or a balance between the paid partnerships and the unpaid advocacies, and of course that the influencer genuinely believes in what he or she is saying — whether they were paid or not.

 WHAT IS your beat or favorite topics/ themes?

    Transport. It’s where I feel I can make the biggest difference.

Has fake news become prevalent in your beat?

Not in the automotive beat (like the manufacturers in the car industry) but mostly when it comes to highly sensitive transport issues.There’s also a disturbing trend of bullying by some agencies; when you don’t echo a particular tune that you are being force-fed, they will just kick you out of their press room and try to label you as fake news.

 How do you sift the truth from propaganda/fake news/slanted news?

   A dead giveaway is when a press release sounds too good or too bad to be true. Or starts with: “Don’t say this came from me, but…” News should be told not sold, so when it starts feeling packaged, beware. Most of it can be solved simply by asking the other side.

How do you see your role as a responsible influencer?

By not being focused on being first, but being accurate. There seems to be too much weight placed on scooping the competition that facts just become optional extras. A good influencer will use his influence in finding out the back story or the other side and then present them in a fair way so that people can be the judge. If you have done your job properly, then people will wait for what you have to say anyway because they know you have thought things through and are sincere in your pursuit of the truth, and not just your social media metrics.

 How do you challenge certain biases that readers already have?

By being sincere. It may take a while, but people can spot sincerity. So just keep at it. Eventually, they will see it.

 

Atty. Bruce Rivera

In your own words, define a social media influencer.

As a lawyer, I understand that my role is usually an advocate while being an officer of the court with certain duties and obligations to the bench, your client, to society and to justice. It is similar in a sense to being an influencer. Lawyering entails taking on someone’s side and trying to make the court take that side while using the fundamental rules of justice and fair play.

 As an influencer, you communicate instead to your followers who read your posts on specific issues and perhaps influence them to discuss it more and elevate the level of discussion to a higher intellectual field. An influencer is not the pied-piper who would simply lead his flock to where he wants to go; an influencer is someone who influences people to talk about certain matters they would not usually talk about and, in the process, change dimensions of thinking and widen perspective. An influencer shows his life and how he or she lives it as the best argument to his point of view. His credibility is usually measured in his popularity in likes and follows (because an influencer is not a panderer) but how his ideas and thoughts translate to people on a bigger scale.

And before I forget, a person who only maligns, sow intrigues and concoct rumors and conspiracy theories is not an influencer. At best, he or she is an instigator or a mongerer because when you post to induce hate or incite bigotry, you do not influence, you simply use human frailties to elicit a reaction.

  What is your beat and favorite topics/themes?

Those who follow me knows only one thing: That I am not predictable. I do not pander to the public. I write about anything that impacts me that very moment. Anything can be an object of impact. A picture of champorado and daing will impact those who may have forgotten how salt and sweet together is heavenly. A selfie can light up someones mood. Something you post may remind him of his childhood.

 Though I am known for my political commentaries, my assiduous defense of President Duterte, my quirky androgyny that is meant to confuse and shock, my simplified legal opinions, my LGBT roots and my honesty and humor, I am still as unpredictable as before.

 Has fake news become prevalent in your beat?

Though sometimes I may have inadvertently shared some articles that later on are proven fake, I seldom had a problem with fake news or accused of it. First of all, I am not a news presenter. I never told the blogosphere that I am the town herald or the village gossip. My posts are all about my personal opinions, which is supposed to be what blogging is all about. It is akin to a memoir where you chronicle your life with musings in your mind that day. It is your own truth. Pag sinabi mo na maganda ka, walang pwedeng magsabi na fake news yan. Kasi kung sa tingin mo maganda ka, that is your truth. Their truth is none of your business and your truth is likewise none of their business. The only time it becomes fake news is when you say something and insist that such is a universal fact when it is not.

How do you sift the truth from propaganda/ fake news/ slanted news?

I really do not attempt to sift. It is futile. Truth is not something universal. So there are some posts that are clearly propaganda to some but truth for others. For example, if someone posts about the President crying in a soldier’s wake, it is truth to his supporters who adore him. To haters of the President, it is propaganda. Fake news is always fake news. The slanted news is quite difficult to determine since you have to establish context. For example, when some newspapers will say, “Under Duterte, we are the murder capital of Asia.” This is slanted news when you look at it from the context that the Philippines is consistently the country in Asia with the highest murder rate. Even under PNoy or GMA, we have always been the murder capital.

How do you see your role as a responsible influencer?

In order to be a responsible influencer, you must know the end goal and what is the effect to the people you intend to influence. However, you have to consider the aforementioned factors without losing the essence of your being. In short, you should not sellout for the likes and follows. Rudimentary traits of humanity should not even be inculcated on an influencer because he or she should know it is mandatory when we deal with other human beings.

How do you challenge certain biases that readers already have?

 The ideal way is not to engage people’s biases. However, I am human. Sometimes, I  engage some comments and answer negative comments. That is my mistake, but may mga comment talaga na hindi mo kayang dedmahin.

 What is the best rebuttal to biases? It is living a good life in spite of everything. When bashers say I am an addict or a scammer, I simply let them see my life and they be the judge. Never give bigotry the justification of a response.

 

Lourd de Veyra

How does being a Filipino inspire you to be better?

To begin with: what does being Filipino really mean? But for simplicity’s sake, my answer is: that I belong to a culture that revels in the absurd and survives it at the same time. Behind me is a tangled, bewildering history redolent of blood, gunpowder and flowers in church altars as well as forgotten monuments to the fallen noble. But we have to keep reminding ourselves that Filipinos are survivors.

How do you inspire other Filipinos to be better?

I don’t really have an answer. I just do my work — whatever that is — and try not to get shot by motorcycle-riding gunmen.

Who do you look up to?

The great Pinoy writers, both the celebrated and the undervalued and obscure. The noisy, tireless activists. Jazz musicians because they are doing God’s work — whatever mental or chemical state they be in.

Source: https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/07/29/1837842/finding-filipino-voice