Freedom of speech ‘limits the power of government to lie’
MANILA, Philippines – The spread of false information online cannot be addressed by simply disabling the comments section.
This was the sentiment shared by blogger and Manila Bulletin columnist Tonyo Cruz, veteran journalist Ed Lingao, De La Salle University professor Leloy Claudio, and Human Rights Watch researcher Caloy Conde in a panel discussion at Rappler’s “Truth, Trust, and Democracy in the Age of Selfies, Trolls, and Bots” forum on Tuesday, November 28.
Panel moderator Lourd de Veyra asked them if the current “troubles” on false information could be solved by disabling comments online.
Cruz argued speech is about power, one that can be harnessed to make the government accountable. (READ: Should governments regulate freedom of expression?)
“Free speech is about power, whether a government is fascist or populist like Duterte’s or seemingly democratic like other governments. Free speech is our weapon. It limits the power of government, especially to lie,” said Cruz.
He added President Rodrigo Duterte and “his army are out to defend power and to capture more power.” (READ: State-sponsored hate: The rise of the pro-Duterte bloggers)
“And they use deception and trolling, and hate speech to divert attention from issues and to portray Duterte as the savior. There’s always a political question between us and government,” he said.
Conde conceded there are issues when it comes to free speech, as it tends to be abused. But he does not believe in hampering the freedom of person who is abusing the online platform.
“Tingin ko, hindi long-term solution ’yong pagbawalan ang mga comments, na pagbawalan ang mga tao na magsalita. Ang solusyon diyan ay hikayatin pa sila na magsalita to the point na dumating ’yong panahon na maging mas matino ’yung pagsasalita nila,” he said.
(I think disabling comments, stopping people from speaking up, is not a long-term solution. The solution there is to encourage them to keep on talking to the point that a time would come that they would say something decent.)
Fake news and government
Lingao, meanwhile, brought up the Senate hearing on fake news online held in October.
The TV5 reporter said senators were working on a false premise when they called for the hearing, which happened after the “Silent No More PH” blog called out 7 senators for not signing a resolution urging the government to stop the killings of children and minors.
The 7 senators claimed they were not asked by minority Senator Francis Pangilinan to sign the document. But Pangilinan’s office took screenshots of their e-mail exchange with senators’ offices, asking them to sign the resolution.
“So it was not fake, it was not news, and they were deliberating fake news with that in mind. Wrong premises, wrong assumptions, wrong direction. And they were going after people who were just expressing their griefs,” said Lingao.
He also called out senators for aiming to create a law against fake news.
“They were trying to craft a law against fake news, which to me is certainly disagreeable. Who will you trust to enforce a law against fake news? Government?” asked Lingao.
“Government, as far as government is concerned, everything government says is true, and all your criticisms and exposés against an official is false. So, automatically, anything that you write as critical can be labeled as fake news,” he added.
Lingao argued that, online, “everybody has the right to be wrong, but everybody has the responsibility it get it right.”
As for Claudio, he hopes online users would have a sense of virtù, a concept theorized by philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli.
“Sabi niya, important sa politics ’yong meron kang sense of virtù, which is not the translation of virtue, but what it really means is the kind of security sa paniniwala mo or sa paninindigan mo. Ito ’yung kailangan natin in the age of social media,” said Claudio.
(He said it’s important in politics for you to have a sense of virtù, which is not the translation of virtue, but what it really means is the kind of security you have in your beliefs and values. This is what we need in the age of social media.)
He said it becomes easy to erode a person’s values when he or she is flattered online. “Stick to your guns. Don’t fall for flattery. Just keep evaluating yourself and have that sense of virtù,” he said. – Rappler.com