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Philippines’ Marawi Siege Offers Lessons on Battling Disinformation and Propaganda


When the Philippines launched the biggest military assault since World War II against Islamic State-linked extremists who seized the southern Philippine city, journalist Carmela Fonbuena, then working for Rappler, dropped into the centre of the action to cover the toll on ordinary citizens.

As the war dragged on for months, she found a parallel disinformation war playing out especially on social media, spreading inaccurate information about government operations or casualties — sowing fear, confusion, or worse, violence. She said false news can spread like wildfire because people “are so desperate for any information.”

“If we don’t fact-check information that’s spreading on the ground, that’s what people will believe if no one corrects it,” she told the FCC in a forum about her latest book Marawi Siege: Stories From the Front Lines.

“That to me highlights [journalists’] very important role in delivering important information during a crisis, whether it’s the Marawi siege or the coronavirus pandemic,” she said in a discussion moderated by FCC Correspondent Governor Kristine Servando.

And when reporters become targets of online harassment by individuals who disagree with facts on the ground, Fonbuena says it is important to build an emotional support network around oneself — and to avoid trolls. “I would rather spend time writing stories that more people will read than engage with a single individual who won’t be convinced,” she said.

View the rest of the video below, where she talked about lessons on how extremism spreads, war’s invisible toll on mental health, and the role of women in the front lines. Her book Marawi Siege can be ordered from [email protected] and shipped internationally.

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