Experts from the University of the Philippines on Friday called on lawmakers to reexamine a bill against fake news filed by Senator Vicente Sotto III. Faculty members and researchers from the College of Mass Communication said Senate Bill No. 9 assumes ‘fake news’ is a problem which only thrives on social media platforms.
Under Senate Bill No. 9, persons who use the internet and social media platforms for the creation and dissemination of false information can be held liable. Known as the Act Prohibiting the Publication and Proliferation of False Content on the Philippine Internet, the proposed law will impose imprisonment and fines ranging from P300,000 to P2,000,000.
While social media remains the primary mode of spreading misinformation and disinformation, the findings of the Tsek.ph team showed there were other sources and avenues for the spread of ‘fake news’ as well.
A Journalism lecturer, Jake Soriano, said that data gathered by the project showed other sources of misinformation and disinformation, which included the candidates themselves while appearing on news media programs, and other public figures who also talked about the candidates. These include “their speeches, their appearances in television, in their CV’s [Curriculum Vitae], for example,” he said.
From February 12, 2019 to May 31, 2019, the Tsek.ph team were able to gather and fact check 131 articles on disinformation and misinformation materials targeting candidates and political groups vying for positions in the May elections.
Breaking down their data further, the Tsek.ph team found Facebook to be the most favored platform in spreading misinformation and disinformation during the May elections. “Of course, Facebook is very popular in the Philippines. . . . You can access Facebook for free. There are a lot of people on Facebook,” said Soriano. Second was television, followed by other social media platforms; then websites, campaign advertisements, and even the curriculum vitae or profile of candidates. Aside from these, there are also unspecified avenues where politicians and their supporters shared false information as well.
As for political groups, Tsek.ph data showed the Otso Diretso slate as the most targeted, followed by local candidates. Third most targeted group was the Makabayan bloc, followed by the Independent candidates for the Senate. Surveys were also the subject of misinformation and disinformation, as well as the Hugpong ng Pagbabago. The Commission on Elections was also not spared by attacks using false information.
As for individual candidates, data showed former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and former Senator Bam Aquino as the most targeted by misinformation and disinformation materials. Old photos of Roxas were reused in criticizing his supposed election gimmicks. False information even went so far as to claim that he had left the Otso Diretso ticket. Aquino on the other hand was targeted with fake quotes, with one claiming that he said poor people deserve food scraps.
The Makabayan bloc was also the victim of false news which claimed that the group was disqualified on the eve of the elections. The false information was found by the Tsek.ph team to have originated from accounts which claimed affinity with the Iloilo City police and supposed Philippine Army reservists based in Mindanao.
The Duterte administration’s Hugpong ng Pagbabago slate was also targeted with the use of altered photos and out of context quotes, as well as fake infographics. Tsek.ph data though showed only three instances where the ticket was the target of misinformation and disinformation.
As for media organizations, Investigative journalist and Journalism Professor Yvonne Chua said that Tsek.ph’s data showed ABS-CBN News as the most targeted of misinformation and disinformation content. This, she said, was worrisome, as it would not only give legitimacy to false information being peddled but also undermine the credibility of news media organizations. “It erodes trust in the media, and in this current environment; this is of no help at all,” she said.
According to Chua, the declining trust in the media is both a reason and a result of ‘fake news’ gaining traction in society. “This is highly problematic because ‘fake news’ confuses what information the public ought to trust or not,” she added. And the impact of false information is felt much more when it influences the decision people make during an election.
As for classifying ‘fake news’ found during the election period, Tsek.ph’s data showed 84 out of the total content they found from February to May 2019, to be false; 21 needed context; 19 were misleading; 5 were accurate. And 2 had no basis.
For Journalism Professor Diosa Labiste, misinformation and disinformation materials will become part of the tool kit of candidates and political groups in the coming years. She said it would be wise to anticipate the use of ‘fake news’ in the 2022, inasmuch as they were used in the 2016 and 2019 elections.
Labiste recommends fact checking initiatives like Tsek.ph not only serve as tools for those in the news media and academe, but also for ordinary citizens desiring to know accurate and factual information.
For Chua, Tsek.ph serves as a showcase of what can be achieved when news organizations collaborate in the fight against ‘fake news’. Collaborations, she said, allow involved news organizations to avoid duplication of fact check stories. “By doing so, we free up journalists and resources to enable them to focus on other types of coverage,” she said.
Tsek.ph was a collaborative project involving the UP Department of Journalism, UP Department of Computer Science, UP College of Law, Ateneo de Manila University, De La Salle University, Rappler, Vera Files, ABS-CBN News, Interaksyon, Radio World Broadcasting Corporation, Baguio Midland Courier, Central Luzon Television, MindaNews, Probe Productions, The Philippine Star, Philstar.com and DZUP.