24 May Deception Trackers: Using location-based data to determine misinformation hotspots
This Philippines-based research project on tracking misinformation on Facebook related to COVID-19 pandemic responses in the highly urbanized cities of Manila, Cebu, and Davao is by the Deception Trackers composed of Jorge Golle, Jesusa Estanislao, and Rosy Mina, all alumni of TechCamp Malaysia 2020. This project is supported by the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur and Penang Institute as part of the TechCamp Malaysia 2020 Small Grant Initiative.
Efforts in the Philippines to counter misinformation, widely known as fake news, are focused on correcting it. This led the group to consider addressing misinformation in a different way by finding out the sources and proliferation of misinformation related to pandemic responses in highly urbanized cities in the Philippines where Facebook usage is high.
By harnessing location-based data, the Deception Trackers sought to map out the findings to help craft targeted solutions to the pandemic infodemic, such as area-specific information drives and highly specialized campaigns.
A targeted survey on Facebook Philippines on COVID-19 misinformation in the cities of Manila, Cebu, and Davao was conducted with a margin of error of 5 percent, meeting the target number of respondents with 4,941 – 4,780 completed the survey while 161 did not.
The information was processed with data experts involved. Aside from the types and sources of misinformation encountered, respondents provided their basic information (full name, date of birth, gender, e-mail address, street address, educational attainment, and occupation), reactions to the misinformation, and recommendations on how to counter the surge of misinformation on Facebook and other social media platforms.
Barangays (villages or communities) and cities that turned out to be misinformation hotspots were mapped out accordingly, and charts on the personal information, reactions, and recommendations of the respondents were created.
Highlights of the Findings
With a distribution of respondents of 1,566 in Manila, 1,552 in Cebu City, and 1,662 in Davao City, the Top 10 misinformation hotspots across the board were:
1. Quezon City (Manila)
2. Adlaon (Cebu)
3. Agdao (Davao)
4. Luz (Cebu)
5. Lahug (Cebu)
6. Sasa, Cabantian (Davao)
7. Catalunan Grande (Davao)
8. Talamban (Cebu)
9. Bonbon, Mabolo, Binaliw (Cebu)
10. Makati (Manila)
As for the misinformation hotspots per city, the Top 10 from the Manila respondents were:
1. Quezon City
3. Barangay 208
7. Antipolo, San Juan, Barangay 146, Mandaluyong
8. Valenzuela, Marikina
9. Navotas, Caloocan, Pasay, Muntinlupa
10. Barangay 195
In Cebu City, the Top 10 sources of misinformation were:
5. Bonbon, Mabolo, Binaliw
6. Banilad, Buhisan
7. Paril, Busay
8. Basak Pardo, Babag, San Jose
9. Barangay Budlaan, Mandaue City
10. Bulacao, Sirao
And in Davao City, the Top 10 misinformation hotspots were:
2. Sasa, Cabantian
3. Catalunan Grande
7. Matina Crossing, Dumoy, Leon Garcia
8. Toril, Lapu-Lapu, Acacia
9. P. Bangoy
10. Communal, 29-C
Meanwhile, there were more female respondents than males, and most were aged 18 to 30. Most of them attained college-level education and had regular employment. Most of them encountered misinformation on Facebook Philippines once, and their Top 3 sources of misinformation were their friends, neighbors, and relatives.
The misinformation topics they encountered were mostly about vaccines, pandemic aid or relief, and possible cures for the novel coronavirus.
As for the recommendations on how to combat the misinformation surge, their top suggestions were enhanced education, Facebook enforcement, and ignoring the misinformation.
Presentations to Experts
Once the maps on misinformation hotspots and charts on the responses were done, these were made known to a small pool of experts for their critiquing via a series of presentations done via Zoom. Albeit small, it was a balanced pool of distinguished experts from the academe, government, media, civil society, and the health sector. They provided invaluable insights and constructive criticisms. The plan was to convene the experts but due to the pandemic and their busy schedules, three online presentations were held instead with the presence of TechCamp Malaysia 2020 Liaison Officer Zhi Xian Tan of Penang Institute.
On July 24, 2021, Philippine Press Institute (PPI) Executive Director Ariel Sebellino expressed support and offered that PPI may host the public presentation to stakeholders.
Presidential Communications Operations Office Assistant Secretary JV Arcena and Department of Health Director IV Dr. Beverly Ho joined the presentation on July 31, 2021.
The experts from the government expressed enthusiasm about the project because it was something they have never encountered.
Arcena expressed interest and said that the findings may be used by his office when dealing with misinformation.
Dr. Ho mentioned that after her department executed nationwide campaigns against COVID-19 misinformation, another way to possibly go about it is to hold targeted campaigns with the help of location-based data.
On August 6, 2021, Atty. Neil Pacamalan of the U.S. Embassy – Manila Cultural Affairs, Penang Institute Analyst Mohd Izzuddin Ramli, and University of the Philippines Associate Dean and Professor Dr. Rachel Khan were convened.
Atty. Pacamalan agreed with the utilization of location-based data, while Ramli and Dr. Khan suggested a more scientific approach. Dr. Khan also invited the group to submit their final paper to the Asian Congress for Media and Communication.
The COVID-19 pandemic greatly hampered the execution of this project. There was no choice but to do everything online, so conducting interviews and profiling in misinformation hotspots were scrapped. The proposed Facebook collaboration for data harvesting did not push through because of privacy concerns but thankfully, it was possible to conduct a targeted survey on the platform. There was also not enough time for a public presentation to stakeholders, but since the pool of experts was well-represented, the presentation to experts sufficed for the time being.
This research project proves that location-based data can be utilized to bring out more information – not just quantitative but also qualitative data. Indeed, something more can be done about misinformation if one digs more deeply such as determining the sources of misinformation and presenting them in the form of maps.
As digital communicators, Golle, Estanislao, and Mina were reminded of the importance of accuracy and objectivity in releasing news and information. They also learned more about the behaviors surrounding misinformation, and the immense effects of the infodemic to society.
The appalling infodemic should not be dealt with passively. Greater efforts must be exerted to counter it. Golle, Estanislao, and Mina were even told by Sebellino that dealing with misinformation is not for the faint of heart, and true enough, their Facebook page became the subject of trolling. It was surprising and a tad disheartening, but they carried on because of their determination to see this project through, along with the encouragement from the experts and support from the TechCamp Malaysia 2020 organizers.
The methodology is simple to replicate for other concerns. The survey questions just have to be tweaked to inquire about the new issue at hand, but the data gathering and processing, mapping, and presentations to experts and stakeholders will be the same.
With the initial positive feedback on this project, the group hopes to continue to scout for an institution that may want to implement the project for a new public issue or use the COVID-19 misinformation findings to develop champions, campaigns, and other solutions.
For the full results and more information, kindly contact Deception Trackers on Facebook: