Truth triumphs: How local Twitter battled fake information at the height of Taal Volcano’s eruption

January 30, 2020 - 9:00 PM
Teenagers on their smartphones
Stock photo of teenagers scrolling through their smartphones. (Photo from Creative Commons)

The local Twitter community utilized the platform’s ability to be at the forefront of real-time conversations when it engaged in pro-active measures battling disinformation at the height of Taal Volcano’s eruption.

Twitter Philippines reported that Filipinos fostered true “bayanihan” spirit when users were “quick to share updates from where they were” to provide the online community with live reports of the situation’s gravity.

“With the eruption of Taal Volcano since January 12, Filipinos flocked to Twitter to stay updated on how the situation unfolded in Batangas and nearby provinces, including Metro Manila,” Twitter said.

RELATED: Thousands flee their homes as Taal Volcano rumbles

It noted that the spirit of “bayanihan” or a deep sense of civic duty was “evident” in how Filipinos strived to share important and essential information about the incident, as well as initiate donation drives for those affected through “#ReliefPH.”

Other hashtags such as “#TaalEruption2020,” “#TaalVolcano” and “#WalangPasok” were used by social media users, media outlets and government agencies in an attempt to deliver timely updates to the public.

“During times of crisis, hashtags can be a powerful tool to stay updated on current affairs,” the platform said.

Twitter also observed how Filipinos followed and retweeted information from verified accounts of government agencies, welfare organizations and established media outlets instead of unauthorized profiles.

“Reliable and verified accounts were followed by the Filipinos. People started to retweet from these accounts to help spread pertinent and verified information to help others keep updated,” Twitter noted.

The platform also lauded the community for urging other users to “verify the news first” before sharing it to their accounts in order to avoid fear-mongering amid Taal Volcano’s unrest, especially after its initial eruption on January 12.

“Filipinos were very careful about what information they shared,” it said.

A Science journal article previously noted that false news and stories circulate on the microblogging platform “at a frightening speed.”

“False news on Twitter spread faster, deeper and more widely than true news,” an article that reported the study’s outcome read.

Such rumors were found to be proliferated by “ordinary Twitter users” who have “meager followings” on their profile,” it continued.

“A sentiment analysis in the Science paper revealed that replies to false news tweets contained more expressions of surprise or disgust than true news,” the article said.

The proliferation of fake news

When news of Taal Volcano’s steam-driven eruption initially surfaced, unverified posts and text messages proliferated on social media as well.

Some of them did not directly involve the eruption but they were dominant in some conversations during height of the calamity that displaced thousands of Batangueños in the volcanic island and its surrounding municipalities.

The proliferation of false claims heightened Filipinos’ anxiety and caused panic.

These include false claims that SM Mall of Asia’s foundation collapsed, cosmic ray emission caused cellphones to emit high radiation and earthquake predictions.

Other fake reports include a supposed photo of Taal Volcano’s eruption before it actually emitted lava fountains and the alleged raising of Mayon Volcano’s alert level.