Fake news blogs as fact checkers?
HOTSPOT - Mocha Uson (The Philippine Star) - April 17, 2018 - 12:00am

It wasn’t too long ago when Rappler CEO Maria Ressa blamed Facebook for the political turmoil in the Philippines due to purportedly fake news. However, in a shocking turn of events, Facebook allegedly chose Rappler, together with Vera Files, to serve as the social media platform’s fact checkers in the Philippines, and that they “have been certified through a non-partisan international fact-checking network.” This made a lot of Filipinos ask one question: WHY?

The need for a third party fact checker to combat misinformation and disinformation on social media is understandable, and I agree to addressing it. However, Facebook, in my opinion, should always have considered selecting groups that are rather neutral, non-partisan, and most of all, unbiased. Merely being certified by a non-partisan fact-checking network does not immediately make them politically neutral organizations.

Among many things, Filipinos are very much aware of the political inclinations of Rappler and as well as some of the people behind Vera Files, and these biases can be blatantly seen in some of the articles that they have published.

Take for example a “report” published by Vera Files on 21 January 2018, with a headline that states: “Duterte, Sara fail to declare P100M investments, documents show.”

In the said article, they stated that President Rodrigo Duterte and daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte apparently failed to declare over P100M worth of investments. The problem here though is that some of the documents they used to show their claims are the same unverified documents made public by Senator Antonio Trillanes.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque then challenged Vera Files to prove their allegations hurled against the President and the incumbent Davao City mayor, and until then the report will just be a mere hearsay, or in layman’s terms, “kwentong barbero.” Is this the kind of fact checker Facebook would want for the Philippines? A fact checker that reports tsismis?

And then here’s Rappler.

How can such a blog, with its own share of “fake news,” be tagged as a fact checker? Remember when Rappler reported that the President will appoint Nikki Prieto-Teodoro as the next DSWD chief, a rumor that spread like wildfire but never happened?

Just last February, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange questioned an article published by Rappler, aptly titled: “Bots, Assange, an alliance: Has Russian propaganda infiltrated the Philippines?” In response, he said that the article is the “stupidest” he has ever read.

These are just a few of the many quirks of misinformation that Rappler has propagated. We also have their series of malicious reports claiming that over 7,080 people have been killed in the government’s war on drugs, regardless if 4,525 of those were not due to police operations but are still under investigation.

Rappler also uses its platform to hit on government officials who are simply doing their jobs, such as that in the Philippine Navy frigate project wherein Secretary Bong Go allegedly intervened. The funniest part of this story, which they have been tirelessly trying to package as a “scam,” is that their basis of his supposed intervention is a Post-it note.

Let’s also not forget how they packaged that the Resorts World Manila attacker was an ISIS “Filipino operative,” even if there was no conclusive evidence to support their story.

And yes, they also “mistakenly” published a “Year of the Dog” tribute showcasing the faces of former DOJ Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, DFA Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, and myself – as dogs.

It is very clear that aside from having a clear share of propagating misinformation and disinformation, Rappler has its biases. Now how can it be a reliable fact checker?

While it remains to be seen whether these fact checkers’ biases will reflect on their duties, I still see the need to watch them closely.

Will they also be acting on misinformation and disinformation being spread by those who are critical and directly against the Duterte administration? Or will they use their newfound authority to suppress the voice of the many other Filipinos who support the administration?

I fervently hope that the latter won’t be the case, but at the same time I share the reservations of many Filipinos over Facebook’s decision in strengthening its fact checking processes. I share their fears of this new development, as it seems like Facebook has just given a new set of ammunitions to specific partisan groups to act against their enemies and even those who do not share their views.

On a final note, I advocate social media transparency and accountability. But with these turn of events, I could only see a bleak future not only for Facebook, but for our freedom to speak our mind – online or otherwise.

FACEBOOK RAPPLER VERA FILES
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