Social media platforms urged to be 'better gatekeepers'

BATTLING DISINFORMATION. Chatham House hosts a discussion on social media and press freedom. Screenshot from Chatham House video

BATTLING DISINFORMATION. Chatham House hosts a discussion on social media and press freedom.

Screenshot from Chatham House video

MANILA, Philippines – Journalism and free speech have exponentially been affected by the rise of lies and disinformation on social media. But is regulating it the solution? 

This was the point of the discussion during the awarding ceremony of the 2018 Chatham House Prize on November 28. This year's prize was awarded to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

As seen across the globe, social media has its pros and cons – providing a platform for the marginalized, yet paving the way for others to abuse its vast space and wide reach.

Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa said lies have been enabled by social media platforms "driven by commerce, without any kind of care or protection of public sphere where democracy takes place."

In recent years, for instance, Facebook has been used to propagate lies in the Philippines. Social media feeds, in the aftermath of the 2016 elections, were filled with false claims – many from pro-administration pages.

In fact, a Rappler investigation found 26 fake Facebook accounts extending to a network that influenced at least 3 million other accounts.

"Once we lost our gatekeeping powers, we became individually vulnerable and the public became far more vulnerable," Ressa said, adding that it is best to now think about how to save the internet for humanity.

Working with social media platforms to uphold truth and accountability is also vital to pushing for a vibrant democracy.

This is why Ressa continues to work with these platforms, to make them realize that it "is in their self-interest to actually become better gatekeepers and put this trash out." 

CPJ executive director Joel Simon, meanwhile, said an international human rights framework may be needed for social media companies.

He added that the systems are also very vulnerable, given how these have been utilized for disinformation and also threats against journalists.

"So that's what I really want to leave people with: a recommitment and a reaffirmation to the importance of local journalism, local journalists – a recognition that they're on the front lines and a recognition that the global information order depends on the work that journalists do," he said. 

Who are left out?

For Mona Eltahawy, an American-Egyptian freelance journalist, debates about social media regulation should consider the possibility that voices of marginalized communities could be left out, whether intentionally or not.

She cited how social media was used by groups in Egypt in the run-up to the 2011 revolution against police brutality. The activists harnessed Facebook to gather support and Twitter to report the incidents, among other social media platforms. 

"[Social media] gave a platform to people who were always marginalized and kept out of so-called traditional mainstream media," Eltahawy said. "And people now, including me who is a freelance journalist, are finding a voice on those platforms, and now we're saying let's regulate those voices?"

"What is that going to do for them because you're still not letting them into the newsrooms of the mainstream media?" she added.

One thing that can be done is to further educate people on the perils of social media and the internet, according to Pulitzer Prize winner Lynsey Addario.

The people, particularly the youth who are often online, should be made aware of the credibility of their news sources.

"I think that's a fundamental problem, because obviously the general public has no idea how to curate their news source," Addario said.

"They need to curate their news source and understand that, you know, some people are credible and some people aren't." – Rappler.com

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.

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