Many things to discuss about the Senate Inquiry on fake news, including how it had the worst “resource persons,” which also ultimately revealed how unprepared our Senators were (save for Nancy Binay and Bam Aquino) for what it is that should be, needs to be, discussed at this point in time.
For one thing, as I said here, the goal should first be to define our terms because, as was apparent during the inquiry, and even more so in the aftermath, we are not on the same page about just the term “Fake News” — what it is, who spreads it, how it is spread.
The curveball was media personalities refusing to use the term fake news. In the next breath though, articles are published that say Asec Mocha Uson spreads fake news.
We are wrong on both counts. Mocha, as I’ve said here, is not always nor usually the source of fake news. This is why when she was asked about specific instances in which she shared purported “fake news,” she actually had a response: I made a mistake and issued an erratum, or I just shared that from another page, or I didn’t say those were Filipino soldiers.
That we insist that she is the source of fake news — when she isn’t — is the reason why she herself has been able to use the label “fake news” against mainstream media. In fact, what she brands as fake news are news articles that based on her assessment are biased against Duterte or in favor of Liberal Party. It’s also fake news to her when mainstream media makes mistakes: puts the wrong image for a caption, puts up an unverified image, etc. She’ll add an accusation to boot: kung ka-DDS ang nagkamali nang ganito, headline na sa mainstream media, pero dahil media rin ang nagkamali, tahimik lang lahat! Fake news media talaga kayo! or something to this effect.
And why does Mocha call mainstream media’s mistakes “fake news”? That’s because we keep calling her the source of fake news when she is not.
It bears repeating: Mocha is rarely the source of fake news. But she does:
(1) Share questionable websites that subsist on fake news and pro-government propaganda;
(2) Vomit opinion based on those same incredible websites and other government propagandists, which make the bases of her opinions highly dubious, and oftentimes already skewed and biased in favor of the President’s policies;
(3) Subsist on vilifying anyone who is critical of government and the President, instead of answering allegations properly — as a government communications official is expected (and mandated!) to do; and
(4) Speak with malice about anyone at all who is considered enemy: everyone is dilawan, or anti-Duterte, or against change, and in the process she does spread falsity, to say the least.
And yes, she makes mistakes, shares the wrong things. This is also what we heard at the Senate Inquiry between Mocha and RJ Nieto: we make a mistake, we issue an erratum. And that’s that.
The Senators, generally unprepared, didn’t know how to respond. And because there was no clear distinction drawn from the get-go about (fake) news and opinion, no one had the sense to tell Mocha etal that errata should not be a fallback, nor an excuse, to just thoughtlessly spew baseless opinion or share questionable posts. The goal of social media user — and especially a government official — is to never have to correct herself, or issue errata.
Besides, errata are totally different for the news for which there are multiple reasons why a story might have loopholes. For example, the information given might be limited, but you know the event is important enough to do a short piece that already says this is happening and we’re waiting for more details. The mistakes with photographs, etc., those are forgivable, and merely a matter of creating a system for verification that is swift without sacrificing accuracy.
With this government, the crisis for media has been particularly about two things: (1) the refusal to deliver information, and (2) government officials lying through their teeth.
The perfect example for the first one is the war on drugs. Media started counting the dead on the streets from the moment Duterte took his seat, using police reports and collating gathered information. Why was that? Because the Duterte administration only came out with numbers in May 2017 — 11 months after — with numbers for March and April. So by the time those numbers came out, it could only be seen as damage control via government propaganda, with a trending hashtag to boot. In order to level this up, the goal should have been to figure out how these numbers — both official and unofficial — could be validated. That Duterte refuses to give us the case folders of these deaths is already telling of who has something to hide.
The perfect example for government officials who lie is of course Duterte himself. And yes, we take him to task for it. But first we stop saying that he is the source of fake news or “fake information” — the latter just confuses us even more. Duterte delivers false information. He lies. Those lies are carried by fake news websites and platforms, which are in turn shared by people like Mocha.
At the Senate Inquiry, Ellen Tordesillas refused the term “fake news”:
“Pag sinabi nating news, balita, dapat totoo… Bago natin ipukol sa madla, sinisigurado nating tama ang balita natin. Ngayon, lalagyan mo ng ‘fake news.’ Ano iyun? Mayroon bang ‘pekeng totoo? <…> Mali ang term na iyan. Sa akin kasi, ang fake news, lies iyan, kasinungalingan iyan, plain and simple.”
I’m not sure that there is anything that’s “plain and simple” here, given the way that Senate Inquiry turned out. First of all, LIES are different from Fake News, and while Fake News might be based on a set of lies, it is in fact formatted like the news — which is why many are duped into believing it. Fake news is propaganda, but laid out like news websites, with photographs and click-bait headlines, promoted by “influencers” with millions in followers, and tadah! you’ve got yourself a misinformation crisis.
To refuse to call fake news what it is, is to miss the opportunity to deal with it head on, and come up with ways to address the misinformation — and its monetization — that is at the heart of its existence. This refusal also allows Mocha etal to say “ako rin ay biktima ng fake news” and insist that media is “fake news” when media makes mistakes — both of which are wrong. Media might make mistakes when they report about her, but that doesn’t make them fake news. It’s just careless media (in the same way that Mocha’s a thoughtless communications official of government). Now since the Duterte camp insists that media is deliberately misreporting on government, then as Ma’am Ellen said in the Senate Inquiry, there are enough laws that covers that.
What we — and much of the world — don’t have, are laws that govern fake news, and a policy, a plan, a program that will fight it. There is SB 1492, filed by Sen Joel Villanueva, which also fails to define its terms properly, shifting between false news and fake news, not even contextualizing any of this in the platforms in which these exist and are distributed, and the anonymity that is the norm for these fake news sites. As such it looks and sounds like blanket censorship on all media, which is unacceptable, and I’m pretty sure will be the reason why this bill will not (should not!) pass.
But this cannot, should not, be a dead end. If anyone at all is monitoring the ka-DDS pages, you would see that they are all gearing up for the 2019 elections. Elsewhere in the world they are reckoning with how social media and fake news were used to affect election outcomes with deliberate and monetized misinformation. We need to do the same.
We need to start by getting off our high horses, and naming the enemy. Looking down on the enemy, saying it doesn’t exist, doesn’t make it disappear. It only allows fake news — government propaganda, lies, and falsity — to win.