The Philippines’ fake news busters

The Commission on Elections body expects fake news to spread faster this time compared to the 2016 vote, when President Rodrigo Duterte (pictured here) won. (Bloomberg Photo)

In the Philippines – where 76 million Internet users stay online the longest in the world – just a handful of people spend a few hours each day to fight fake news about the upcoming midterm elections.

The Commission on Elections has formed a team of 10 government workers to spot and report misleading online posts to Facebook Inc., with whom the poll body has an agreement to quickly take down false information. Weeks before the 13 May elections, the group has already identified hundreds of fake news posts – mostly those claiming ballots have been tampered with, or that the poll results are predetermined.

“What we’re trying to do is to institutionalise this reporting process in a way that Facebook will not have any other recourse but to act on it,” Election Commission spokesman James Jimenez said in an interview. “Fake news could affect how people see the credibility of the elections and the mandate of the winner.”

With more voters using social media now, the election body expects fake news to spread faster this time compared to the 2016 vote, when President Rodrigo Duterte won. Still, Jimenez said the team formed to fight fake news is not enough to adequately combat disinformation.

“We only have 10 people, so you just cast as wide a net as possible to fight fake news as much as you can,” he said.

Facebook last month removed 200 pages and accounts found to be misrepresenting themselves. It also earlier partnered with local media groups to debunk false posts on its platform.

The social media giant is taking steps to prevent the spread of fake news on its platform in time for the elections, particularly by removing fake accounts and educating people on how to spot false posts, its Manila office said in a statement on Saturday. "We have invested heavily in people and technology to better identify and remove abuse, particularly around elections," it said.

Fact-check team

Three universities and 11 news organisations have also teamed up to spot fake news and fact check candidates’ statements.

The group – which calls itself and follows a similar coalition in Indonesia called Cekfakta –monitors online posts using an app and categorises them as either accurate, false, misleading, no basis or needs context. It also accepts suggestions from Web users on sites that should be scrutinised.

“ is as much a user of social media as producer of verified information, so all we can really do is flag dubious sites,” said Rachel Khan, journalism professor at the University of the Philippines, a member of the consortium. “We will give the public a source of verified information and hope that it will influence them to make the right decisions.”

While these efforts from government and the private sector can help limit the impact of disinformation on the elections, much still needs to be done, including educating Internet users on how to spot fake news, said research analyst Allie Funk from United States (US)-based media watchdog Freedom House.

“Ultimately, the issues relating to disinformation won’t be solved in a few months and with only a few tweaks here and there. This is a long-term challenge that will need long-term solutions." - Bloomberg