VERA Files: Fact checker or fact blocker?

HOTSPOT - Mocha Uson - The Philippine Star

When all else fails, we can only rely on the facts. Why? Because with the facts, what we see is what we get. But these days the facts themselves can be repackaged into falsities and rumors – and the rumors demystified into part-truth and part-creative (non)fiction, so who else can we turn to?
In the Facebook universe Philippines edition, it’s certainly not their designated “fact checker,” VERA Files.
Just this April, Facebook tapped VERA Files as its third party fact checker that will serve to monitor, flag and report posts and pages that are deemed to be spreading fake news, all in the effort to improve quality content and provide Facebook users with supposedly nothing less than “real” and “authentic” stories.
In the spirit of achieving the ideals of transparency and accountability, there’s nothing wrong with having a third-party to do the monitoring. Having VERA Files however, proves to be a wrong choice.
But why so?
VERA Files doesn’t know the meaning of “fake news” in the first place.
VERA Files president Ellen Tordesillas herself admitted that they have no working definition of the term “fake news.” When asked by host Christian Esguerra in his morning show at the ANC Network, Tordesillas stammered with her words as she tried to answer this simple question, and rather tried to go back to their contract with Facebook as a third party fact checker.
Why choose a group that doesn’t have a clue on what it should be exactly doing? Giving VERA Files such responsibility only makes them more powerful to curtail public interest and destroy what remains of today’s public trust, and unfortunately, that is what they are doing at this very moment.
VERA Files doesn’t have a sound understanding of what it is like to be a “blogger.”
In an earlier interview with Karen Davila also on an ANC morning show, Tordesillas stated that “just because you are a blogger, it doesn’t mean you can post lies,” in line with her attempt to differentiate bloggers from journalists. This is understandable, given that Tordesillas is a veteran journalist, but bloggers are individuals who own the platforms in which they air their ideas without restriction or need to comply with journalistic standards (although ideally so). Living in a democratic society, this gives them the liberty to air their sentiments regardless if these are based on facts or are mere figments of their imagination.
What VERA Files is trying to do now is to flag and report posts they deem superfluous, and this alone is already an act of undermining one’s freedom of expression. Should we allow such group to put our freedom of speech hostage?
VERA Files selects the truths to present to Filipinos on Facebook.
We see all sorts of things on Facebook, true. While these may not all be true, it is our discretion to decide whether they are worth influencing our minds and hearts, or not. However, with VERA Files on board, they are limiting our freedom not only to express, but to see and hear stories that we need to know.
Just recently they have been on a roll in flagging posts and pages that they find to be spreading “fake news.” The worse thing is, they only take into account pages and profiles of those who are supportive of the current administration, without even exerting effort in conducting transparent investigations first.
Among the pages they have flagged is Good News Network PH, a page that is active in documenting the progress of various government activities and its achievements for the Filipino public to see on a real time basis. Why flag a page that showcases what the government is doing for the benefit of its people? More than the truth, the government owes the Filipino public progress and development. Filipinos deserve to know where their taxes are going, the programs that they can benefit from, the small changes and developments that allow the nation to move toward a better future – in all channels and platforms, including social media networks such as Facebook.
And yet VERA Files has the audacity to flag this as inappropriate? Inappropriate to whom? To their side of history?
On the other hand, pages such as Silent No More PH and Pinoy Ako Blog, the most vocal anti-Duterte pages, continue to leave their footprints across Facebook and other social networks, and yet VERA Files has never laid a finger on them, to think what they relentlessly serve are half-baked truths infused with a mix of flavorful opinions and sprinkled with lies. Is this what we deserve to digest? Junk food for the brain?
We live at a very dark time in history, where despite the channels where we can exercise our freedom to see, hear, speak, and listen, the facts are being kept beyond our reach to benefit only a privileged few. But let’s remember that above all freedoms we are enjoying today, we have the freedom to think and be critical of the truth, because we serve nothing less than accountability and transparency. And no fact-checker can stand in our way in enjoying the truth, and absolutely not VERA Files.

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