The day after: thoughts on the Senate Hearing on Fake News (Part 1)

By Noemi Lardizabal-Dado and Jane T. Uymatiao

The Senate Committee on Public Information stressed the need to address the proliferation of misinformation in social media during a committee hearing on Wednesday, October 04, 2017. “If unchecked, fake news cultivates a culture of lying. If purveyors are allowed to get away with their lies, they embolden government officials to also lie in order to escape accountability, crush dissent, and commit illegal acts with impunity,” Senator Grace Poe  said. 

Photo by Alexis Nueva España, Senate of the Philippines. Some rights reserved.

Noemi and Jane share their individual reactions to some points taken up at the hearing.

Point 1: Should social media platforms be regulated?

Jane: There is no way social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook will agree to be regulated by governments. They are simply that – platforms. The only time I recall that they intervened was to take down ISIS-identified accounts but that was due to the threat of global terrorism. The only way we can minimize fake news is to consistently educate social media users, call out and correct fake news.  This is not the first time a legislator has proposed to regulate social media. What worries me is whether such moves now are simply to curb fake news or to eventually silence critics.

Noemi: There is a reporting mechanism on Twitter and Facebook with their own take-down policies. These internet giants can provide tools and resources to train netizens to be savvy news consumer. It is more important for netizens to understand that every time they passively accept information without double-checking, or share a post, image or video before they’ve verified it, they are just adding to the noise and confusion.

Point 2: On the representation of bloggers

Noemi: This hearing  is unfair to bloggers by putting the  blogging community in a bad light and focusing on the worst practices of the two partisan camps. Each blogger has their own community with their own best practices such as disclosure or disclaimer and even a corrections policy like we have on BlogWatch as shown below.   

We will publish corrections on our own and in our own voice as soon as we are told about a mistake by anyone — our contributors, an uninvolved reader, or an aggrieved reader — and can confirm the correct information.

Most bloggers value credibility, truth and fairness. Credibility is all we have. Then again, what is credible to one person can be seen as questionable to another. It is all a matter of perception.

Jane: The blogosphere is heterogenous. Many of us in the mid 2000s  began with one personal blog only but over time, as people started to specialize in niched blogs, different communities of bloggers became more defined — food, parenting, tech, lifestyle, beauty, fashion, sports, and so on. Each community has its own often unspoken but understood way of blogging to adhere to the main tenets of truth and accountability. Yes, there were exceptions that we are not proud of, but to the blogosphere’s credit, perceived unethical behavior or untruth in blogging were immediately called out by bloggers themselves. We are not as irresponsible as some quarters make us out to be. It was disappointing to have to listen to the senators speak about bloggers as though those before them were representative of all bloggers.

Photo by Cesar Tomambo. Senate of the Philippines. Some Rights Reserved.

Point 3: “I am a blogger, not a journalist” (Mocha Uson)

Noemi: I agree with Mocha that bloggers are not journalists but it doesn’t mean I am not accountable for my writings. As a blogger (and because my husband is a lawyer), I am aware of the libel laws even before the CyberCrime Prevention Act of 2012 . I respect people’s privacy even before the effectivity of the Data Privacy Act.  It’s just following the norms which govern ordinary human relations. If I wouldn’t say it to that person over a cup of coffee, I don’t post it. The best defense against anything that would curtail our freedom of expression, be it online or offline, is to express ourselves in words and deeds that are thoughtful, truthful and honest.

Jane: In a very literal sense, Mocha was right. She is a blogger (though some would contest even that) and not a journalist. I have never claimed to be a journalist myself. However, this was her reply to a line of questioning that had to do with her accountability over fake news. On this, we differ because while I may not be obliged to adhere to journalistic standards, I try to follow these as best I could, knowing that I am accountable for my words to readers of my posts. Credibility matters a lot so I am always careful not to jeopardize whatever credibility I have because I would lose my readership. And that holds true not just for what I write on Blogwatch but on my personal blogs as well.

Point 4: Webhosting vs blog ownership

Noemi:   A self-hosted blog needs many requirements before their site goes live. Some are not techie or want to be bothered by all these technical details so they turn to a webhost who offers services such as domain registration, server space, web design and administration.  The Senate hearing should get resource persons to discuss all these before assuming ownership of a blog.

Jane: Part of the discussions included how Thinking Pinoy unearthed information based on alleged domain registry information and Google Adsense Publisher ID. The Senate would be better informed if any technical discussions included IT people knowledgeable in such subjects.

It is not clear what the Senate hearing hopes to achieve but the information during the first hearing is not enough to file a bill against fake news. We suggest the following:

  1. Invite other bloggers to provide insight on responsible blogging and their best practices.
  2. Invite resource speakers for the Data Privacy Act, IT , webhosting and web administration.
  3. Invite other sites that have a list of fake news websites like the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), Rappler, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) and others.

Continue Part 2: Responsible blogging