The Philippines on Monday protested an arrangement between Facebook and two Manila-based news organizations – including the Rappler website, which the government had ordered shut down for criticizing President Rodrigo Duterte – to fact check content published by the social media giant.
Facebook announced last week that it was partnering with Rappler and VERA Files in launching a third-party fact-checking program “aimed at helping combat fake news” from spreading on the popular platform.
Facebook said Rappler and VERA Files “would review news stories on Facebook, check their facts and rate their accuracy.” It noted that the two Philippine groups had been certified through “a non-partisan” International Fact-Checking Network.
On Monday, Philippine presidential spokesman Harry Roque criticized the move by accusing Facebook’s “chosen police of truths” of being partisan themselves. He did not elaborate.
But, he added, the president’s supporters “should make known their wishes to Facebook itself, that there should be a more partial arbiter of the truth.”
“My advice is for the Facebook users to make their wishes known to Facebook and of course the possibility of shifting is always there. Of course, there’s the worldwide movement to delete Facebook not just because of their moves in the Philippines, but because also of privacy concerns,” Roque said.
Three months ago, Duterte’s government ordered Rappler closed for allegedly violating a constitutional requirement, which states that all media firms should be owned by Filipinos.
Two U.S.-based groups had held “Philippine Depository Receipts,” or PDRs, issued by Rappler, effectively making them part owners of the firm. But they since transferred their shares to Rappler, and the case remains on appeal.
Rappler, as well as media watchdog groups in Southeast Asia, have said that the closure was part of Duterte’s crackdown on the independent Philippine press, which has been critical of his policies, including his administration’s drug war that has left thousands dead.
“This is the problem with truth that can be subjective depending on your political perspective,” Roque said, adding that the presidential palace knew where Rappler and VERA Files “stand in the political spectrum.”
‘Creators of fake news’: Roque
On Monday, meanwhile, Facebook sites operated by pro-Duterte bloggers said they found themselves blocked. There were widespread complaints, with a minor official at the state-run lottery firm urging Duterte supporters to abandon Facebook and shift to VKontakte or VK, the Russian equivalent of Facebook.
Filipinos are perhaps the world’s most prolific Facebook users, with over 36 million people out of the country’s population of 103 million subscribing to the site. This is slightly up from about 30 million in 2016, government data shows.
The social media platform has become so powerful that Duterte himself has tapped former dancer and Facebook phenomenon, Mocha Uson, as an assistant communications secretary because of her nearly 6 million followers that have also become rabid online followers of Duterte.
But Uson has been known to spread fake news herself. She once said she was free from vetting her often outrageous claims because she was not a journalist.
Roque, in a separate radio interview earlier Monday, urged the “DDS” or the Duterte Diehard Supporters to complain en masse to Facebook over its choice of truth verifiers.
“They should really tell Facebook that they made a mistake in choosing who would vet their fake news because they themselves are creators of fake news,” Roque said.
“I believe the Facebook management will be shocked and will listen to us,” he said. “We should not agree to that.”
He said the government’s presidential communication office would raise its concern with Facebook at a yet to be scheduled meeting.
“This will be an agenda when we finally get to sit with them soon,” Roque said.
Felipe Villamor in Manila contributed to this report.