Waging war

By: Joshua Fidel Feria
April 10, 2018

For far too long, the online landscape has been scourged by the presence of (and pardon the hackneyed, overwrought term) FAKE NEWS. To put it very bluntly, the mere mention of the term renders me nauseous, as I’m sure it does you, too, if only for the reason that people make too often the erroneous conflation between ‘fake news’ and satirical commentary, the latter of which I have, too obviously, an affinity for.

In one of the Senate hearings on the subject early this year, Clarissa David, a professor from the University of the Philippines’ College of Mass Communication, pointed out that, since the rise of Rodrigo Duterte to power in 2016, misinformation online surged emphatically. It could, even, be argued that the strongman from Davao was propelled to such great heights thanks in large part to the deliberately errant, openly biased pieces of news shared for times on end on social media.

It came to me as no surprise that this point was lost on a notably bewildered Senator Manny Pacquiao, who, notwithstanding the explanations of David throughout the session, even accosted Presidential Communications Operations Office Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy later in the same hearing, for having posted on her “blog” (a glorified Facebook page, really) supposedly errant information about Pacquiao and an alleged floozy.

But I digress. Months back, I attended a forum on online journalism featuring Vberni Regalado, Philippine Star’s head of social media, as resource speaker. Regalado touched on the subject of deliberately false information being spread online, responsible use of social media platforms, and ethical journalism among others. Toward the end of his discussion, I took it upon myself to ask him about his thoughts penalizing fake news, as it had been raised on previous Senate hearings, and whether or not it would prove to be under ethical practice, vis-à-vis our own Constitution.

He immediately rebuffed the notion of penalizing the so-called fake news, as he believed in the rights of individuals to express themselves in whatever manner they would please.

However, as we cut to present day, it would appear that Facebook, the online platform in which most of the mayhem occurs, has had a hand in the rancor for quite some time—and we didn’t even have a clue. In a March 28 report from the Inquirer, the publication cited Ars Technica which had reported that “users who checked data gathered by Facebook found that it had years of contact names, telephone numbers, call lengths and text messages.”

This came on the same day after Facebook had placed full-page ads on multiple publications based in the United States and the United Kingdom, apologizing for the Cambridge Analytica scandal. “According to the ads, a quiz app built by a Cambridge University researcher leaked Facebook data of millions of people four years ago. Zuckerberg said this was a “breach of trust” and that Facebook is taking steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” the Inquirer report read.

That Facebook has fumbled so magnificently with such crucial information should be cause for alarm. Filipinos know far too well the potency of social media in affecting democracies; that a man who openly brags of eating another man alive with a pinch of table salt is also called the President of the Republic should come as adequate reinforcement.

Media literacy—the continued engaging in public forum and discourse—as Mr. Regalado told me in the forum, is one, if not the only, weapon with which a responsible citizenry can combat fake news. With Facebook’s blunders on data privacy, we find ourselves more vulnerable than ever to the perils of continued scrolling, liking, sharing, commenting, and the rest of the luxuries companies such as Mark Zuckerberg’s afford us.

The modern citizen cannot afford any longer to be in the dark about social media. It’s best we remain informed, and that the desire to engage