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'Fake news' should be considered form of election fraud, says watchdog

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) along with social media users should step up efforts to fact-check and monitor “fake news” in the run up to the 2019 elections, election watchdog Kontra Daya said.

In a statement Friday, December 7, the group said the prevalence of misinformation and disinformation online is serious enough that it may be considered a form of election fraud.

They said purveyors of “fake news” should be held accountable as part of efforts to ensure clean and honest elections.

“The lies, misinformation and disinformation resulting from the activities of online trolls cannot be denied…. Any attempt to deceive the electorate should be exposed and those responsible for it should be made accountable,” Kontra Daya said. (LOOK: Facebook blocks websites believed to be peddling fake news)

The Comelec earlier announced it was eyeing to include candidates’ social media campaigns in its rules on campaign spending limits. Part of what the Comelec wanted to monitor was the use of “social media specialists” or troll farms, and how much money was spent for such.

For Kontra Daya, this was an “acknowledgment of the problems that can emerge if social media misuse and abuse remain unchecked.”

“The people are up against an organized form of deception coming from troll farms. Their objective is to spread lies, misinformation and disinformation to vilify their perceived enemies and promote certain candidates, no matter how unfit they may be to hold public office,” the group said.

The Comelec, though, said that while they wanted to monitor how much candidates spend for social media campaigns, these guidelines will not limit candidates’ right to freedom of expression.

Voter education: Kontra Daya said part of monitoring candidates’ social media should also include the promotion of fact-checking and media literacy as part of voter education.

The group warned of the dangers of fake news proliferating online. They recalled how social media feeds were filled with false claims from politicians and their supporters in the aftermath of the 2016 elections. (READ: Propaganda war: Weaponizing the internet)

“The people need to remain critical of the information they get on social media, most especially from traditional politicians whose strategy may include lying to the electorate just to get their votes,” they said.

They added, “Now, more than ever, we should have a concerted effort to expose those who help spread 'fake news' and maintain troll farms as they sow lies, misinformation and disinformation online…. We cannot afford to have troll farms undermine the polls.” – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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