Philippines irked by Facebook’s choice of fact-checkers

Updated 16 April 2018
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Philippines irked by Facebook’s choice of fact-checkers

  • Manila lauds efforts by social media giant to prevent spread of fake news, but slams choice of fact-checkers: Rappler and Vera Files.
  • Duterte has repeatedly launched tirades against Rappler, which he refers to as a 'fake news outlet'

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque on Monday lauded efforts by Facebook to prevent the spread of fake news, but slammed its choice of fact-checkers: Rappler and Vera Files.

This comes amid reports that Facebook has started targeting fake Philippine news sites. Most of those reported blocked were pro-Duterte websites believed to be peddling fake news.

Roque said Facebook’s third-party fact-checking program “is the solution and not legislation.”

But he cited the need for a “more impartial arbiter of the truth,” raising questions on the fairness of Facebook’s chosen partners in the Philippines.

“There are those who are complaining that the chosen police of the truth, so to speak, are sometimes partisan themselves,” said Roque.

“This is the problem with truth that can be subjective depending on your political perspective,” he added.

“That is why I commiserate with those who object to the selection of Rappler and Vera Files, because they know we are aware of where they stand in the political spectrum.”

Duterte has repeatedly launched tirades against Rappler, which he refers to as a “fake news outlet.”

In January, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked Rappler’s registration, allegedly for violating the constitution and the Anti-Dummy Law.

Vera Files is published by veteran Filipino journalists. Earlier this year, it published a report that Duterte and his daughter Sara “omitted to fully disclose” 100 million Philippine pesos (1.9 million) of joint deposits and investments.

The presidential palace dismissed the report as “rumor,” and challenged Vera Files to prove its allegations.

The move to tap the two news organizations as fact-checkers came days after it was revealed that the accounts of 87 million Facebook users worldwide were accessed by Cambridge Analytica, a communications firm accused of harvesting data of millions of Facebook users to help Donald Trump’s US presidential campaign.

Vera Files President Ellen Tordesillas said while its partnership with the social media giant was announced last week, talks between Vera Files, Rappler and Facebook started last year.

Vera Files is accreditated by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN). “One of the criteria of the IFCN for you to be certified is non-partisanship. That’s what Facebook also emphasized to us: Being non-partisan,” Tordesilla told Arab News.

“As a journalist, you must always try to get the truth, wherever the weight falls. “We try to be factual, to be accurate in our reporting... What’s important to us is the truthfulness of the information, independence and fairness,” she added.

“We’re given access to website posts shared on Facebook, so we’ll do a fact-check and the classifications are true, false, half truth/half false and not eligible (for opinions, satire and quizzes).”

When Vera Files tags an item or post as false, it has to present to Facebook the basis for doing so.

“This includes URLs, primary sources like statements, websites, official data and documents. We have to submit these to Facebook to back up our rating,” said Tordesillas.

Facebook will not automatically delete the post, but when someone clicks to share it, a notice will appear that “this post has been tagged as false,” she added. The Facebook user may still opt to share the post.


Trump’s travel ban faces US Supreme Court showdown

Updated 22 April 2018
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Trump’s travel ban faces US Supreme Court showdown

  • The high court has never decided the legal merits of the travel ban.
  • The challengers have argued the policy was motivated by Trump’s enmity toward Muslims.

WASHINGTON: The first big showdown at the US Supreme Court over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies is set for Wednesday when the justices hear a challenge to the lawfulness of his travel ban targeting people from several Muslim-majority countries.
The case represents a test of the limits of presidential power. Trump’s policy, announced in September, blocks entry into the US of most people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. Chad previously was on the list but Trump lifted those restrictions on April 10.
The high court has never decided the legal merits of the travel ban or any other major Trump immigration policy, including his move to rescind protections for young immigrants sometimes called Dreamers brought into the US illegally as children. It has previously acted on Trump requests to undo lower court orders blocking those two policies, siding with him on the travel ban and opposing him on the Dreamers. Trump’s immigration policies — also including actions taken against states and cities that protect illegal immigrants, intensified deportation efforts and limits on legal immigration — have been among his most contentious. 
The conservative-majority Supreme Court is due to hear arguments on Wednesday on the third version of a travel ban policy Trump first sought to implement a week after taking office in January 2017, and issue a ruling by the end of June. 
The lead challenger is the state of Hawaii, which argues the ban violates federal immigration law and the US Constitution’s prohibition on the government favoring one religion over another.
“Right now, the travel ban is keeping families apart. It is degrading our values by subjecting a specific set of people to be denigrated and marginalized,” Hawaii Lt. Governor Doug Chin said in an interview.
The Supreme Court on Dec. 4 signaled it may lean toward backing Trump when it granted the administration’s request to let the ban go into full effect while legal challenges played out.
In another immigration-related case, the justices on April 17 invalidated a provision in a US law requiring deportation of immigrants convicted of certain crimes of violence. Trump’s administration and the prior Obama administration had defended the provision.
'Politically correct'
Trump has said the travel ban is needed to protect the US from terrorism by militants. Just before the latest ban was announced, Trump wrote on Twitter that the restrictions “should be far larger, tougher and more specific — but stupidly that would not be politically correct!“
The challengers have argued the policy was motivated by Trump’s enmity toward Muslims, pressing that point in lower courts with some success by citing statements he made as a candidate and as president. As a candidate, Trump promised “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
The Justice Department argues Trump’s statements as a candidate carry no weight because he was not yet president. The policy’s challengers also point to views he has expressed as president, including his retweets in November of anti-Muslim videos posted by a far-right British political figure.
In a court filing last week, US Solicitor General Noel Francisco, representing Trump in court, said those retweets “do not address the meaning” of the travel ban policy.
Francisco cited Trump statements complimentary toward Muslims and Islam, including in a May 2017 speech in Saudi Arabia.
In defending the ban, the administration has pointed to a waiver provision allowing people from targeted countries to seek entry if they meet certain criteria. The State Department said that as of last month 375 waivers to the travel ban had been granted since the policy went into effect on Dec 8.