How to stop the spread of fake news. is legislation the proper remedy?

This is my position paper as one of the resource speakers for the second public hearing held by the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media on January 30, 2018.

The hearing will elaborate on the following issues.

  1. The extent of responsibility and accountability of journalists, mass media personnel, and bloggers in spreading misinformation;
  2. How online platforms affect public opinion and facilitate the spread of misinformation; and
  3. Can the government be made accountable for the use/misuse of resources
  • in spreading misinformation or “fake news”
  • or suppressing the truth (by intimidating journalist, trolling)

The hearing will continue the discussion of the following :

Filed on March 7, 2017 by Trillanes, Antonio “Sonny” F., SRN-315 
Filed on January 18, 2017 by Pangilinan, Francis N. SRN-271 
Filed on January 12, 2017 by Trillanes, Antonio “Sonny” F. SRN-259 (as filed)
Filed on June 21, 2017 by Villanueva, Joel SBN-1492 as Filed
5. Manifestation of Senators Sotto, Pacquiao, Villar, Gordon, Pangilinan, Zubiri, Aquino, Hontiveros, and Angara on the article #SilentNoMorePH;
My position statement

Good morning, I am Noemi Lardizabal -Dado, blogger and advocate for over 11 years. As momblogger, I believe in  making a difference in the lives of our children by advocating social change for good .

Fake news. It’s complicated. I prefer not to call it “fake news” but it has already become an umbrella term that talks about a specific kind of propaganda/misinformation/disinformation.  As an internet freedom/internet rights advocate, I am painfully aware that “fake news” is being used to stifle the same rights we are fighting for.  For the purpose of this hearing, I will use the term “fake news” for brevity. First Draft News says “the term fake doesn’t begin to describe the complexity of the different types of misinformation (the inadvertent sharing of false information) and disinformation (the deliberate creation and sharing of information known to be false)” *

Having been online for over 21 years, and a blogger for 11 years, I value credibility, truth and fairness.  It’s just following the norms which govern ordinary human relations. If I wouldn’t say it truthfully and honestly to any person over a cup of coffee, I don’t post it. The best defense against anything that would curtail freedom of expression, be it online or offline, is to express myself in words and deeds that are thoughtful, truthful and honest.

I’d like to point out blogger communities are unique in their own ways but most of us collaborate on social issues that affect our country. It was one reason BlogWatch was organized in 2009.

Blog Watch, a community I am proudly part of, is an informal group of bloggers and social media empowered citizens who have been blogging, tweeting and creating digital content on politics, business, social, international, and cultural issues here and abroad since 2009. In relation to this we have been covering, crafting and participating in press conferences and events since the mid-2000s.  We do not consider ourselves as journalists, but as bloggers and social media-empowered citizens. We work on our own time and we have no support from media companies, But the content created by the community adheres to our collective principles that have guided us through the years. We believe in citizens getting involved in the participatory process of governance. We are in it for the long haul so it is important that we are accountable to our readers and community because credibility is all we have.

Additional legislation is not the remedy to curb fake news

I’m suspicious of any new law that throws cold water on free expression — whatever the motivation. We already have lots of laws abridging free expression. Libel, cybercrime, terrorism, bullying, video voyeurism are all valid concerns that deserve to be properly addressed. But these laws may also be used to curtail dissent and free debate of ideas. The problem of disinformation and misinformation is fundamentally political — because our political leaders and their supporters resort to disinformation and misinformation. For example: saying foundlings are not natural-born Filipinos.

Additional legislation may not be the answer to curbing fake news, for the following reasons:

  1. The disinformation and misinformation cannot be solved by a new law which rival politicians wish to use against each other or their proxies. Article 154 of the Republic Act 10951 has already a similar provision of “Fake News” which is the “Unlawful use of means of publication and unlwaful utterances.”

“1. Any person who by means of printing, lithography, or any other means of publication shall publish or cause to be published as news any false news which may endanger the public order, or cause dausage to the interest or credit of the State;

  1. We have enough laws to address the problem of fake news, the Revised Penal Code and the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (R.A. 10175) being the most obvious examples. What we need is fair and just enforcement.
  2. The proposed legislation, such as S.B. No. 1492, are so vaguely worded and overbroad in defining what it considers as “fake news” as to be constitutionally questionable. The proposed laws will almost surely infringe upon rights guaranteed by the Constitution such as freedom of expression and the right to information of public interest or concern.
  3. The very nature of social media and its enabling technology will make restrictions difficult, if not impossible, to implement. Online platforms, such as Facebook, are here to stay, whether we like it or not. As noted by the Senate itself, these platforms are tools for people empowerment. And just like any tool, they can be used for good or bad ends. But by themselves, they are neutral.

How then can we curb the spread of fake news?

As a blogger, I will to continue to write articles of national interest and those that educate the users of social media platforms on its judicious use and inculcating a culture of critical thinking and respect for truth and reason.  People must be provided proper guideposts but they have to navigate the path themselves and become savvy news consumers.

READ: Fact-checking day is every day. Here are 8 tips on how you can stand up for facts

READ: Fake news: 7 types of mis- and disinformation (Part 1)

READ : Be a savvy news consumer. Here are 6 tips for identifying fake news (Part 2)

Bloggers and advocates are now collaborating with each other to spread awareness on fact checking. False news is harmful to our community and to our role as advocates.  Fellow bloggers and advocates work together to debunk “fake news” by tapping our various communities.

READ: Moves to fight “Fake News” and Other Information Disorders in 2018

Advocates help each other through counterspeech when faced with malicious and vicious attacks in the course of debunking fake news.

I have made mistakes as a blogger and even deceived by a wrong website URL but I learn from all these. I make corrections immediately. I believe that false news is fake news if no recantation nor correction is made after falsity is established or information is debunked.

All bloggers have their own communities with their own best practices such as mandatory disclosure or disclaimer and even a corrections policy like we have on BlogWatch.

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.


Lastly, I would like to recommend the following

  1. Government entities or employees can be made accountable for the use/misuse of resources in spreading misinformation or “fake news” by invoking Republic Act No. 6713 , Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.”
  2. Instead of crafting a new law, enforcement should be strengthened and supported, but balanced by the need to protect the constitutionally guaranteed rights of free speech and free expression.
  1. Libel should be decriminalized as the prison penalty creates a chilling effect on the media, and threatens press freedom and free speech.
  2. Legislators should take time to sit down with the blogging /social media communities and understand their role in using technology for social good. Constructive engagement, taking into consideration diverse views from all sides of the political spectrum, will ensure that we are all given a voice as citizens, fellow travelers and Filipinos.

While we can pass laws for every conceivable human act, we cannot legislate good judgment.

I would like to thank Tonyo Cruz , Pierre Galla, Carlos Nazareno, Marnie Tonson, Nica Dumalao and other fellow advocates and bloggers who gave me inputs for this position paper.

Thank you

Noemi Lardizabal-Dado