Like much of our connected world, the Philippines has a problem with fake news.
But it faces some unique challenges in trying to fight it.
The bogus stories that pollute the internet in the Philippines are startling in their venom, frequency and sometimes clumsy attempts to look like the real thing.
For example, a number of the stories say Senator Antonio Trillanes, a critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, was arrested for drugs and accepted massive bribes. Trillanes’s team maintains they are all made up.
Some of the most shocking fake tales, however, focus on Senator Leila de Lima, one of the fiercest critics of Duterte, whose war on the drug trade has resulted in the deaths of thousands.
The news sites they allegedly come from may look authentic, but they’re not. Neither are the claims — for example, that de Lima’s son was arrested for drug trafficking, that de Lima pole dances in Germany, that de Lima was ousted, that she attempted suicide.
Surely a little fact checking might make that clear, but in the Philippines, this gets complicated.
The cost of fact-checking
Mobile internet coverage in the Philippines is among the slowest and most expensive in Asia. So it’s a big commitment to click on a link or watch a video in the name of fact-checking. It can drain precious data fast.
Through some of the telecom companies, though, Facebook is free.
Filipinos love Facebook. A global digital survey released in January found that Filipinos spend more time on social media than anyone else in the world — and the biggest chunk of it is on Facebook and Facebook Messenger.
Political operatives in the Philippines take full advantage of this.
Staffers for Senator de Lima say they collected fake news stories about her from various Facebook timelines over the past few months.
Facebook users see them fly by, and some, it seems, believe what they read.
The fact that many Filipinos let their data run out and just rely on free Facebook use “helps both the disinformation and misinformation, because if you can’t afford the data, what you see on your free Facebook is the [headline],” said journalist Maria Ressa, who runs the news site Rappler.
The headline, she points out, is where the most interesting, provocative information sits.
Forget nuance, forget context.
Facebook recently introduced a tool for detecting fake news, but it is currently only deployed in the U.S., Germany, France and Norway.
Ressa and her team have been investigating the trajectory of fake news stories — as well as bogus social media accounts and online attacks — in the last year or so.