Toolkit Laban sa Katangahan (A Bullsh*t Detection Kit)

This is an English translation of an earlier post.

Imagine, for a moment, turning on the TV. You see a news segment announcing that “Isaw (a popular Filipino street food) boosts IQ by 100%, ‘scientists’ say”.

Isaw, the new brain food? Image credit: Flickr

“How can it be?” you think to yourself. You’ve eaten a bajillion isaw sticks in your university days and it didn’t help you pass Math 17! Plus, why is the word ‘scientists’ in quotation marks? Is this news really true?

Chances are, maybe you’ll look up “isaw high IQ” on Google. Maybe you’ll ask a friend on Viber if he’s heard of it. Maybe you’ll check if other news stations or newspapers have carried the article, to see if they’ve said the same thing.

Now, imagine – what happens if there are no other sources of news out there?

What I’ve just described is a rather poor metaphor for what I felt upon hearing the Philippine congress’ decision to reject the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN, the country’s largest broadcast network on Friday.

The biggest loss, in my view, is the information void left by shutting down the network. More than 90% of Filipinos get their news from TV and ABS-CBN had the widest reach throughout the country. Who do those Filipinos, especially in rural areas, turn to for updates (especially critical now that we’re in the midst of a pandemic) now that one of the biggest sources is gone? Facebook groups? Kapitbahay? (Neighbours?)

Sadly, during this whole controversy I have observed from interactions with friends and some relatives on social media and elsewhere that, too often, opinions are taken wholesale from one source (or worse, an unsubstantiated Facebook post by some random stranger masquerading opinions as truth), without regard for fact-checking the arguments presented.

It’s the Wild West of disinformation out there, especially on the internet. And now the country’s media landscape has lost a key player that – while imperfect – at least had a track record spanning decades and recognition from local and international organisations for its reporting.

“Civilized society is a working system of ideas. It lives and changes by the consumption of ideas. Therefore, it must make sure that as many as possible of the ideas which its members have are available for its examination.”

Commission on Freedom of the Press, “A Free and Responsible Press”

(Emphasis mine)

Now, I don’t intend to go through the arguments of why our lawmakers closed that network. That’s not the purpose of this post.

But in the face of what’s happening in the country today, I would like to present a Toolkit for Healthy Skepticism to Guard Against Bullsh*t in the News (a.k.a. Toolkit Laban sa Katangahan), based broadly on Carl Sagan’s baloney detection kit, resources from Singapore’s National Library Board & the News Literacy Project, and the scientific method.

Remember the scientific method? We all slogged through it in high school. The key point is this: when presented with new ideas, we should not accept it immediately. We should treat it with skepticism. We ask questions, gather information, and make our own assessment based on the information we’ve gathered.

Going back to the isaw headline – if you decided to search for the story on Google, ask a friend, or check out other sources – congratulations! That was the first step!

But what questions should we ask? I would recommend starting with the NLB’s S.U.R.E. framework:

1) Source – Where did the content originate from? How credible is the publisher?

A quick scan of Facebook pages, news websites and groups, where a lot of Filipinos get our daily source of news, easily yields biased sources of reporting. Some are fairly easy to spot, but others aren’t.

Red flags include no “About” section, no byline (an author’s name) attached to the piece, news articles that have no date, and a “Contact us” section that does not match the domain (e.g. a Gmail or Yahoo e-mail address).

A fake page intended to fool readers into thinking it’s The Guardian, a legitimate news site. Source:

2) Understand – Search for clarity in what you’re reading. Does the article make sense? Does it trigger strong emotions? Do offers sound too good to be true?

“Agot niresbakan ang kampo ni Jinkee!” Does the headline make you upset? Angry at Agot? Fight through that knee-jerk reaction and pause for a minute. A lot of headlines use sensational language to bait you into clicking the link or sharing it to your friends. Take the time to read through the article and understand if it makes sense. Sometimes, the stories don’t even have anything to do with the headline!

Source: Abante

3) Research – Go beyond the initial source. Has it been published elsewhere before? Check the publish date. When was the photo taken? Real information can often be taken out of context.

Early on in March, a family friend shared a series of photos to me purportedly coming from Unicef with tips on how to fight the coronavirus. It had a Unicef logo, but immediate red flags included the clumsiness of the advice (it suggested staying away from ice cream and cold food, which did not sound science-based) and format of transmission (private chat). It took me less than 2 seconds to Google and find out directly from the Unicef official website that it was fake.

There are websites like Snopes who’ve been out there doing the hard fact-checking work for us since the 1990s. All it takes is a few more clicks to double-check before we share.

As for information being taken out of context, a recent example is this one of Prince William flipping someone off. Or is he?

It’s all about point of view. Source: Reddit

Photos can be cropped or altered to serve certain agendas. Before we rage at Prince William, let’s first dig around and see if the images we see are credible.

4) Evaluate – Look at the story from various angles. Was it meant to be a joke (for example, satirical news websites such as The Onion or Adobo Chronicles)? Check your own biases and emotions. Are they affecting your judgement? Think before you share!

Source: Scoopwhoop

Maybe at this point, you’ve gone through the S.U.R.E. toolkit. But what if you realise the conclusion points against something you believe in?

As Carl Sagan once said, “The question is not whether we like the conclusion that emerges out of a train of reasoning, but whether the conclusion follows from the premise or starting point and whether that premise is true.” Let’s not get overly attached to an idea just because it’s ours.

Being S.U.R.E. is not easy. Believe me, I know! Skeptical thinking doesn’t sell. It takes some extra work.

But I believe in all of us. As one of my favourite childhood shows suggests, Buksan ang pag-iisip, Tayo’y likas na scientist! (Open your mind, we are natural scientists!)

Source: NLB Singapore

Now more than ever — think critically dear readers,

Toolkit Laban sa Katangahan (A Bullsh*t Detection Kit)

There is an English translation of this post here.

Isang araw, binuksan mo ang TV at nagulat sa nakitang balita. “Isaw, nakaka-doble ng IQ, ayon sa mga dalubhasa!”

Isaw, the new brain food? Image credit: Flickr

Inisip mo siguro, “Weh, ‘di nga?” Sa dinami-dami ba naman ng isaw na kinain mo noong college, wala ka namang napala at kwatro ka pa rin sa Math 17. Tsaka, sino ‘tong mga “dalubhasa” na ‘to? Isaw experts ba kamo?

Siguro, Ginoogle mo yung “isaw high IQ”. Baka naman minessage mo yung kaibigan mo sa Viber para magtanong kung nabalitaan din ba n’ya ‘to. Pwede rin na nilipat mo yung channel para i-check kung nabalita rin s’ya sa ibang istasyon sa TV o kaya sa dyaryo.

Ngayon, isipin natin — paano kung wala nang ibang mapagkukunan ng balita?

Medyo pangit yung comparison. Pero ito ang naramdaman ko noong narinig ko ang balitang tinanggihan ng kongreso ang pagbigay ng panibagong prangkisa sa ABS-CBN, ang pinakamalaking broadcast network sa Pilipinas, noong nakaraang Biyernes.

ABS-CBN ang may pinakamalawak na network sa buong bansa, lalo na sa mga malalayong probinsya. Sa aking pananaw, ang kawalan ng pagkukunan ng balita para sa mahigit 90% na mga Pilipino na umaasa sa TV para rito ang pinakamasaklap na bunga ng pangyayari. Nasa gitna tayo ng pandemya. Saan kukuha ng impormasyon ang ating mga kababayan? Sa Facebook (eh paano kung wala naman silang pambayad ng internet)? Sa kapitbahay?

Ang nakakalungkot pa, base sa mga pino-post ng ilang mga kaibigan at kamag-anak sa Facebook at sa pakikipag-chat sa kanila, marami pa rin ang kumukuha ng opinyon mula sa social media, na walang ginagawang “fact-checking” o pagsusuri kung totoo ba o hindi ang mga nababasa nila.

Medyo magulo ang internet, nakaka-trigger talaga. At ngayon, nawalan pa ng isang mapagkukunan ng balita na — gayong hindi perpekto — ay meron namang ilang dekadang karanasan at kinikilala sa loob at labas ng bansa.

“Civilized society is a working system of ideas. It lives and changes by the consumption of ideas. Therefore, it must make sure that as many as possible of the ideas which its members have are available for its examination.”

Commission on Freedom of the Press, “A Free and Responsible Press”

(Emphasis mine)

Hindi ko naman balak talakayin kung bakit hindi sila dapat ipasara ng kongresista.

Pero sa gitna ng nangyayari ngayon sa ating bansa, nais kong i-presenta ang isang Toolkit Laban sa Katangahan (a.k.a. Toolkit for Healthy Skepticism to Guard Against Bullsh*t in the News), batay sa sinulat ni Carl Sagan, ang National Library Board ng Singapore at ang News Literacy Project, pati na rin ang scientific method.

Naalala n’yo pa ba ang scientific method? High school pa tayo nung inaral natin ito, baka nakalimutan na natin. Ang mahalaga: kapag binigyan tayo ng mga bagong ideya, hindi natin dapat tanggapin ito agad. Dapat may pag-aalinlangan. Tayo’y magtanong, mag-imbestiga, at mag-isip ng sarili nating konklusyon mula sa nakalap nating impormasyon.

Bumalik tayo sa kwento tungkol sa isaw — kung naisipan natin mag-search sa Google, magtanong sa kaibigan, o tumingin ng ibang pahayag — mahusay!

Ano ba ang dapat nating itanong sa ganitong mga pagkakataon? Kung napapa-“shit” ka sa mga nangyayari sa ating bansa — you’re on the right track besh!

S.H.I.T. talaga ang ating tandaan pagdating sa balita o impormasyon mula sa social media: Suriin, Hanapin, Intindihin, Tanungin

1) Suriin – Saan galing yung balita? Sino ang nagsulat at nag-publish?

Maraming Pilipino ang gumagamit ng Facebook or social media para makakuha ng balita, ngunit laganap ang biased pages, groups, at pekeng news websites. Yung iba, madaling mahalata pero yung iba, hindi.

May mga ilang palatandaan na pwedeng alalahanin tulad ng kawalan ng “About” section, walang pangalan ng may akda, walang petsa, o kaya naman ay Gmail or Yahoo e-mail lamang ang ginamit para sa “Contact Us” section imbes na ibang opisyal na domain.

Nagkukunwari na sila raw ang The Guardian, isang lehitimong news website. S.H.I.T.! Source:

2) Hanapin – Bukod sa tao o Facebook page na nagbatid sa atin ng balita, hanapin kung mayroon pa bang ibang nagpahayag ng balitang ito. Kailan ito ipinahayag? Kailan kinuha ang litrato sa artikulo? Maaaring totoo ang impormasyon, pero wala sa orihinal na konteksto.

Noong bago pa lang ang balita ng Covid-19, shinare sa akin ng tita ko ang isang message na may malaking “Unicef” logo, tips daw laban sa virus. Nagduda ako agad dahil parang hindi propesyonal yung dating ng payo (huwag daw kumain ng ice cream at malalamig na pagkain — huh?! parang chika lang ang peg). Tsaka bakit tine-text ng Unicef yung mga tao, hindi ba mas official kung ianunsyo nila ito sa pahayagan? 2 segundo lang ng pag-Google, nalaman ko agad mula sa Unicef official website na peke ang tips na ito.

Madaling mag-fact check gamit ang websites tulad ng Snopes, atbp. Kailangan lang natin ng konting effort para mag-double check kung totoo ba ang finoforward natin, bago natin i-click ang “Share.”

Isang halimbawa naman ng litratong wala sa konteksto ay yung meme ni Prince William na sumikat kamakailan lang. Ha?! May minumura ba s’ya?

Nag-iiba ang istorya, depende sa anggulo. Source: Reddit

Ngayon madali lang putulin o i-Photoshop ang mga litrato depende sa motibo ng nagsusulat ng balita. Bago tayo magalit kay Prince William, hanapin muna natin sa internet kung kapani-paniwala ang litratong nakikita natin.

3) Intindihin – Dapat malinaw at may kahulugan ang binabasa natin. Sadya ba nitong tini-trigger ang emosyon natin sa pamamagitan ng salita o litratong ginamit sa artikulo? Masyado bang maganda ang balita para maging totoo?

“Agot niresbakan ang kampo ni Jinkee!” Nainis ka ba noong nabasa mo ang headline na ito? Nagalit ka ba kay Agot? Labanan natin ang unang reaksyon natin sa mga ganitong artikulo at tumigil ng sandali. Maraming pahayagan na sadyang gumagamit ng nakagigilalas o nakakagulat na mga salita upang hikayatin tayo na i-click ang link nila o i-share ito sa Facebook page natin.

Huwag tumigil sa headline — basahin ng buo ang balita at intindihin kung may kahulugan ang nasusulat dito. Minsan, walang kinalaman ang kwento sa headline na nagpagalit sa ‘yo!

Source: Abante

4) Tanungin – Tingnan ang balita mula sa iba’t ibang panig. Tanungin ang iyong sarili: joke-time lang ba ito? (Halimbawa, may mga news websites tulad ng The Onion sa Amerika o Adobo Chronicles sa Pilipinas na gumagamit ng “satire” na pang-uuyam ang pangunahing layunin.) Tanungin ang sarili kung merong biases o emosyon na nakakaapekto sa pagtingin mo sa balitang binabasa. Magtanong-tanong at magisip-isip bago mag-share!

Source: Scoopwhoop

Eh paano kung ginamitan mo na ng S.H.I.T. toolkit ang balita ngunit pagpasiya mo sa dulo ay taliwas sa iyong orihinal na paniniwala?

Sabi nga ni Carl Sagan, “The question is not whether we like the conclusion that emerges out of a train of reasoning, but whether the conclusion follows from the premise or starting point and whether that premise is true.” Ibig sabihin, kailangan nating maging maunawain sa iba’t ibang pananaw. Hindi porque atin ang isang paniniwala, tayo ang parating tama.

Source: I Was There

Hindi madali i-S.H.I.T. lahat ng balita. Hindi madali maging skeptic. May extra effort na kailangan. Pero may tiwala ako sa ating lahat. Sabi nga ng isa sa aking paboritong palabas noon, Buksan ang pag-iisip, Tayo’y likas na scientist!

Source: NLB Singapore

Lalo na sa panahon ngayon, maging mapanuri po tayo!