Manila: A Philippine lawmaker has accused government-owned and other mainstream media channels of peddling lies and disinformation.
Senator Grace Poe, during the senate hearing on “Fake News” said the freedom of speech and readily accessible information ushered in by social media networks and other online platforms had advantages and pitfalls — one of which is the threat of subliminal manipulation.
She decried media outlets for allegedly using propaganda dressed as “truth” to manipulate the people.
“The danger of online manipulation is that it blocks the flow of real feedback from real people, which is essential in improving and perfecting public policy and programmes,” she said in her opening statement at the second hearing on “Fake News.”
Despite some arguments to the contrary, the Philippines’ media sector has been ranked among the most free in Southeast Asia.
But the envelope of this freedom is being pushed, to the point of abuse, by media outlets including certain websites and other platforms, as well as so-called “bloggers”, the lawmaker said.
“Though we support a person’s right to freedom of expression, once that writer defames the subject of his article, that writer must be held liable in accordance with our laws,” Poe said in her speech.
She said a blogger could not just attack a person without basis, and then hide behind the skirt of freedom of expression.
Poe also said, while most bloggers were acting like they were “above the law,” they are still confined by the same rules that apply to all people.
“Some bloggers claimed that their posts were personal expressions or mere opinions and are therefore not subject to a journalist’s code of ethics. In my view, bloggers are not above libel laws. If a blogger passes on information that he claims are facts, but which later turn out to be false, we should be able to hold him accountable,” she said.
In the same breath, she slammed social networking sites such as Facebook for having a hand in mental conditioning of readers.
“A 2015 report by the National Telehealth Centre, stated that 42 per cent of 102 million Filipinos were active users of social media, with Facebook as the most actively used social media platform,” the lawmaker said
“What we don’t know or refuse to recognise is that Facebook can act like an echo chamber, reflecting back only news that you like,” she added.
She said that lies told repeatedly have an effect, with the person receiving them eventually perceiving such misinformation as the “truth.”
“It has also been called, cyber propaganda” or computational propaganda, because these are online articles that appear to be factual news, but are actually paid for and designed to manipulate opinions. Though social media is a fun and wonderful invention, it can be used to manufacture popularity,” she said.
Poe as well as then Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay ran in the May 2016 presidential elections where then Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte emerged as the winner.
Nearly two years after being elected to office, Duterte, whose campaign was heavily buttressed by social media, remains overwhelmingly popular to Filipinos.