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Bacolod City, Philippines Friday, January 4, 2019
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with Eli F.J. Tajanlangit

Fake news

Rock & Refuge

The first text came at around 5 a.m., too early to snap out of my sleep which began just four hours earlier. I ignored it. As I tried to sleep again, there were intermittent text beeps as I slid in and out of consciousness.

When I finally got up at around 7 a.m.there were 12 texts waiting. Checking them, they all greeted me a Happy Birthday. Some came with creative illustrations, others with sexy animation. The greetings were warm and heartfelt, even the funny ones. I would have felt loved and special except for one thing. It wasn’t my birthday.

My first impulse was to answer each one privately so that the whole thing is downplayed. But what about the other greetings that might come later? Then the greetings started appearing on my Facebook wall. A stronger action was needed.

And so I decided to post that public apology and clarification some of you might have read yesterday. Thanks for the greetings but today is not my birthday.

Welcome to the world of fake news. This wasn’t some grave life-threatening experience, thank God. In many other cases, fake news have ruined lives, relationships and reputations.

It could even impact on nations and governments. Filipinos and Americans (nice company here)continue to suffer the election of our Presidents whose campaigns were successfully waged on the back of fake news.

American President Trump captivated Americans with his ultra-nationalist rhetoric that was backed by fake news and lies that he floated freely on FB and Twitter. Our President Rodrigo Duterte convinced 16-million people to vote for him on a platform heavily peppered with lies and bad, tasteless jokes.

Sustained by a continuing stream of fake news created and shared by trolls, Trump and Duterte continue to have the support of a significant percentage of their populations. We still haven’t even found a tool with which to defeat the spread of fake news. It will continue to ruin nations and humans.

My personal experience with fake news yesterday was in no way comparable in magnitude to the tragedy that the US and Philippines have been suffering. It doesn’t even come close.

But this somehow gave me a ringside view of how it is to be the object of fake news – the unfairness of it all when you consider it has to be examined and addressed. It also gave me an x-ray vision of the anatomy of fake news.

Fake news, personal and communal, are, simply put, downright cruel. How, for example do you clear and straighten things up? Like that proverbial tale on gossip, how do you collect or get back the thousands of feathers thrown into the wind?

I had initially thought some one had played a joke and posted birthday greetings for me, which someone read and passed on. Before long, however, someone told me, through a private message that FB had announced it was my birthday. Now, this was a mystery. How could FB announce my birthday on a different date? Who fed this wrong data? I am pretty sure no one had touched my cellphone and computer; they were always with me.

One of my friends who was curious enough to also find the answers to these questions called me up and said perhaps your FB page has been hacked. That, as of this time, is the most probable explanation to this.

During the last month or two, my FB page has been acting strangely. Several times, it has surprised me with announcements that so-and-so has accepted my friend request. I don’t think I sent any friend requests to anyone. Some of those who confirmed my “request” were people I truly like to be on my friends list. A few I honestly dislike. I’m sure they must have been surprised to receive a friend request from me, knowing how some in fact despise me.

And then there is the other phenomenon that my FB self is supposedly doing: liking posts I do not even remember ever reading. This has caused me some degree of embarrassment: some of these are risqué posts my many conservative friends would blush upon reading.

The birthday greetings slowed down towards the afternoon. I thought it was all over, until someone called to tell my name is also on the FB list of upcoming birthday celebrants. I am supposed to celebrate my birthday on Jan. 9.*

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