Trillanes seeks Senate probe into social media 'trolls,' fake news

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Antonio Trillanes IV wants a Senate investigation into the proliferation of "trolls" and fake news on social media.

Trillanes, who has been a subject of attacks online, filed Senate Resolution No. 259, urging the committee on public information and mass media to probe the "proliferation of false, erroneous, distorted, fabricated and/or misleading news and information on social media, as well as on the so-called social media trolls." (READ: Fake accounts, manufactured reality on social media)

Trillanes said there is an "immediate and imperative need" to investigate the issue, as it threatens the "viability and credibility" of online journalism and also violates a citizen's right to truthful and accurate online news and information.

The probe, he added, aims to protect the public from "manipulation" done through the spread of fake news. (READ: Propaganda war: Weaponizing the internet)

It also seeks to hold "the authors, distributors and/or purveyors of the same responsible and/or accountable under the law for the contents they generate and/or disseminate."

"Recently, instead of being a tool for empowerment, social media has become a platform for political propaganda, deceit, and manipulation, which has been continually abused and misused for the sake of personal or political agenda, at the expense of rational discourse and discussion with the proliferation of the so called 'social media trolls,'" Trillanes said in his resolution filed on Thursday, January 12.

The Senate committee on education earlier held an inquiry on the responsible use of social media in schools. (READ: Media literacy in schools needed vs social media abuse)

Culture of impunity online

Trillanes described a troll as someone whose identity is typically unknown. A troll, he said, "deliberately creates and/or foments discord and conflict on social media sites" through the posting of controversial and inflammatory messages that provoke emotional responses from other internet users.

"Because of social media trolls, social media is now being used to create fabricated realities through a network of fake social media accounts intended for trolling and spreading of erroneous and misleading news and information," the resolution said.

Social media trolls, Trillanes added, create a "culture of impunity online" by using foul and uncensored language and personal attacks like death and rape threats.

The senator also said social media trolling has now become a source of living, with a salary of up to $2,000 a month.

"The spread of false, erroneous, distorted, fabricated and/or misleading news and information by these social media trolls threatens the viability and credibility of online journalism, with internet users having few mechanisms to filter news sources," he said. –

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email