2022 Philippine Elections

Where do presidential aspirants stand on fighting disinformation?

Gaby Baizas
Where do presidential aspirants stand on fighting disinformation?
(1st UPDATE) Vice President Leni Robredo and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno aim to hold big tech companies accountable for lies spread on platforms

MANILA, Philippines – Where do Philippine presidential aspirants stand when it comes to combating disinformation in the social media capital of the world?

On GMA News’ special program The Jessica Soho Presidential Interviews which aired Saturday, January 22, aspirants were asked about their plans to address trolls, fake news, and disinformation if elected president.

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Vice President Leni Robredo and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno both underscored the importance of holding social media companies accountable for the proliferation of harmful false claims on their platforms.

Kailangan ’yung mga big social media companies, papanagutin, kung bakit nila hinahayaan ’yung kanilang platforms magamit sa kasinungalingan, kung bakit nila hinahayaan na ’yung mga kasinungalingan, namamayagpag sa kanilang mga platforms,” Robredo said.

(Big social media companies need to be held accountable for allowing their platforms to be used for spreading lies, and the reasons why these lies thrive on their platforms.)

’Yang mga may-ari ng mga social media company na ’yan, papanagutin ko ’yan…. Hinahayaan nilang gawing outlet na mga maling impormasyon ’yung kanilang sistema,” Moreno said.

(I will go after the owners of those social media companies…. They allow their systems to become outlets for disinformation.)

Robredo, known as the face of the opposition, has often been on the receiving end of disinformation online. A Vera Files report found that the Vice President was the top target of election-related disinformation in 2021, while Moreno ranked third.

In her interview with entertainment host Boy Abunda on Wednesday, January 26, Robredo specifically pushed for the passage of a law that would hold social media giants accountable for the lies and even pornography that they allow to be spread on their platforms. 

“Kung anong ilalabas sa Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, whether porn ‘yan or whether fake news, wala tayong control. So para sa akin, kailangan magkaroon tayo ng batas na kini-criminalize natin, pini-penalize natin ‘yung mga social media sites for them to be accountable and to be responsible,” Robredo said. 

(Whatever comes out on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, whether porn or whether fake news, we have no control over that. So for me, we need to have a law that criminalizes, penalizes social media sites for them to be accountable and to be responsible.)

The Vice President said that this has the longtime call of Nobel laureate and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, who had earlier asked senators to draft legislation that would hold social media sites accountable for disinformation.

Senator Panfilo Lacson said that the government should go after those who spread fake news, and that Filipinos should also be “discerning” of information they find on social media.

Dapat mamulat ’yung ating kababayan, maging discerning on our own, sa sariling galaw natin. Pero dapat, ’yung ating pamahalaan, mayroong control mechanisms at saka talagang dapat habulin ’yung nagpapakalat ng fake news,” Lacson said.

(Our countrymen should be more conscious, discerning on our own, when it comes to our own actions. But our government should have control mechanisms in place, and should go after those who spread fake news.)

Senator Manny Pacquiao advised Filipinos not to abuse social media through the mobilization of trolls and the spread of disinformation. He also suggested improving the internet signal in the country.

Malaya ang mga taong gumamit ng social media, Facebook, pero kailangang ’wag naman abusuhin na gamitin na para gumawa ng trolls, lahat, everything…. Also, palakasin din natin ’yung internet signal dito sa ating bansa,” he said.

(People are free to use social media and Facebook, but they shouldn’t abuse it to create trolls and everything…. We also need to strengthen our internet signal in the country.)

Survey front-runner Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. did not attend the program, with his camp accusing Soho of being “biased against the Marcoses.” False claims about the Marcos family have been spreading across several online platforms, with disinformation networks operating on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok.

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Marcos Jr. had also asked the highly-scrutinized political data company Cambridge Analytica to “rebrand” their family’s image on social media, a claim his spokesman denied. A Graphika report also found that a Chinese fake account network on Facebook had a “particularly striking” focus on Bongbong’s sister, Senator Imee Marcos.

Veteran labor leader Leody de Guzman was not invited to the program, but has previously said his party Partido Lakas ng Masa aimed to mobilize members to become a “social media brigade” against disinformation.

The Philippines ranks first in the world for time spent on social media, and the country saw how social media played a crucial role in Rodrigo Duterte’s victory in the 2016 presidential elections. A Cambridge Analytica whistleblower said the Philippines was the company’s “petri dish” even before their 2018 scandal, which revealed that Facebook harvested data from over 87 million users for political campaigns.

Of the 87 million, 70.6 million users were from the United States, with the Philippines coming in second at 1.2 million users.

In terms of current legislation, lawmakers have sought to revisit existing criminal laws to keep up with the spread of disinformation and troll operations online. Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon sought guidance on a proposed law that would compel tech companies to reveal identities of trolls or anonymous accounts online.

Rappler CEO and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa also urged Filipino senators to craft a law that would make platforms liable for lies. In a Senate hearing earlier this January, she advised senators not to intervene in content as disinformation is not a freedom of speech issue; rather, it is a freedom of distribution issue which needs to address algorithms that favor false claims over facts. (READ: Maria Ressa asks tech, social media giants to ‘stop the lies’)

In the same hearing, Ressa also warned senators the country could see a repeat of the 2021 United States Capitol riot if disinformation is not stopped. – with reports from Mara Cepeda/Rappler.com

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Gaby Baizas

Gaby Baizas is a digital forensics researcher at Rappler. She first joined Rappler straight out of college as a digital communications specialist. She hopes people learn to read past headlines the same way she hopes punk never dies.