Why Alvarez' bill criminalizing fake social media accounts won't work

TROLLS NO MORE? Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez files a House measure seeking to punish fake social media accounts and bots.

TROLLS NO MORE? Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez files a House measure seeking to punish fake social media accounts and bots.

Creators of bots (short for Internet robots) and fake accounts on social media, beware!

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez wants to put a stop to the proliferation of fake accounts and bots, whose presence in the Philippines grew significantly during the 2016 presidential campaign. (READ: Propaganda war: Weaponizing the internet

His proposed solution? A law that would require social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to verify the identity of all users. (READ: Fake accounts, manufactured reality on social media)

If Alvarez had his way, House Bill 5021 shows, people caught creating fake accounts stand to face 6 years and one day up to 12 years in prison. They will also be asked to pay a fine ranging from P30,000 to P50,000.

The same penalties will be imposed upon a person who owns or controls “artificial intelligence programs or similar programs that create social media users accounts,” also known as bots. 

Sounds good? Or too good to be true? Here's why the proposed measure, even if passed into law, may not be enforceable:

1. Facebook, the largest social media platform, is a US company, not covered by Philippine law. It is Facebook and the other platforms – not law enforcers – that decide which accounts ought to be shut down.

But Alvarez, without specifying how, said he wants social media websites to guarantee the authenticity of every profile. “The applications of those found out as presenting himself as another person from whom he is shall be denied. Further, the user accounts of other persons, the authenticity of which are subsequently discovered as compromised, shall be shut down.” 


2. The owners of fake accounts are almost impossible to trace because they are anonymous and provide false personal information.

Alvarez, in his bill, however, said an account owner is "prohibited from opening an account for his online presence using someone else’s identity and presenting himself to the online world as that person whom he is not.”

Law enforcers will have a hard time tracing the owners of fake accounts precisely because, well, they are fake and false.

While the intent of the bill is laudable – Alvarez said every person using social media “must observe a responsible and fair exercise of his right to free expression and opinion” – actual implementation and enforcement will be a tough challenge.

Read the full copy of HB 5021 below:

Mara Cepeda/Rappler.com