Disinformation Country Profiles: Fake News and The Philippines

I’ve decided over the next few months to do profiles of fake news in different countries every few weeks, so today I’m starting with fake news and the Philippines, and looking at how fake news pervades not only the Filipino media but also its government and current administration.

As with Trump in the US, fake news in the Philippines has always existed but was bolstered by the election of the right-wing populist President Rodrigo Duterte, who assumed office in June 2016 – already you can see the parallels between fake news in the US and the Philippines.

Starting pre-election, a study by Bradshaw and Howard a Poll Bots project found during his election run Duterte’s campaign team hired 400-500 trolls with a budget of ₱10 million (~£143000) to spread and amplify messages in support of Duterte, including targeting opposition individuals with abuse and fake news stories. Duterte denied the claims at the time, however after his election when asked about hiring trolls during his election he replied “Perhaps during the elections, and they were all during the campaign. But I do not need that now” but emphasised these were “cyber troops” and not “trolls”.

For some context, in 2007 only 6% of the Philippines had internet access, in 2016 alone the country saw its biggest increase in internet users (27% of the population) and as of 2017 60% of the population have access to the internet. However, as of January 2017 Hoot Suite and We Are Social report the Philippines as spending the most time on social media of any country (average 4h17m a day) and having experienced the 7th highest increase of social media users in the world in 2016. With these statistics in mind the proliferation of fake news in the Philippines should come as no shock – fake news flourishes when a large section of the population uses social media because it can be disseminated rapidly, at a low-cost and at times automatically

Senator Francis Pangilinan sought to make the social networks on which fake news was spread responsible for fake news by imposing fines while Senator Joel Villanueva filed a senate bill titled “An Act Penalizing the Malicious Distribution of False News and Other Related Violations”. Villanueva’s bill proposed giving people a fine of ₱5 million (~£72,000) with a potential of five years in prison for creating/disseminating fake news, which would be increased to ₱10 million and ten years of imprisonment if the disseminator was a public official.

Fake news has made its way to the government in other ways too, namely by Duterte giving fringe-bloggers and promulgators of fake news government positions, including making R. J. Nieto (aka “ThinkingPinoy”) a social media consultant at the Department of Foreign Affairs. On both Twitter and Facebook ‘@iMthinkingPinoy’ spread stories such as President Donald Trump calling Philippines lawmaker Antonio Trillanes IV a “drug lord”, a claim that has since been verified as false by the fact checker Snopes. There are clear parallels here between Nieto being hired as a governmental social media consultant in the Philippines and the co-founder of Breitbart News Steve Bannon being hired (and now fired) by the US president as a White House chief strategist

Finally, looking at fake news in Philippines ends with some examples fake news articles, including some screenshots of older now deleted articles and one that is still active online at http://city-herald.com/angela-merkel-praises-philippines-rodrigo-duterte-as-a-giant-of-the-21st-century/:

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