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.


US regrets Afghan civilian deaths, says answer is peace

Updated 25 April 2019
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US regrets Afghan civilian deaths, says answer is peace

  • International and pro-government forces were responsible for the deaths of 305 civilians in the first three months of the year, UN says

WASHINGTON: The US envoy negotiating with the Taliban voiced regret Thursday over findings that US-backed forces were killing more civilians than the militants, and said the solution was a peace deal.

A UN report released found that international and pro-government forces were responsible for the deaths of 305 civilians in the first three months of the year.

“We deeply regret any loss of innocent life during military operations. We never target innocents,” said Zalmay Khalilzad, the US negotiator who is set shortly to resume talks with the Taliban in Qatar on ending the war.

“War is treacherous, and unintended consequences are devastating. While we strive to prevent casualties, real solution is a cease-fire or reduced violence as we pursue lasting peace,” he tweeted.

Khalilzad appealed to the Taliban and other Afghans to “work to make this the year of peace.”

He struck a different tone than the spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, Col. Dave Butler, who said the US pursued “the highest standards of accuracy and accountability” and that troops “reserve the right of self-defense.”

President Donald Trump is eager to find a negotiated way to pull out troops and end the longest-ever US war.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, with whom the Taliban refuse to negotiate, has called for next week a “loya jirga,” a traditional gathering of all the country’s communities, although it is unclear how broad the attendance will be.

Officials in Kabul said the Taliban ambushed a security convoy in western Afghanistan, killing nine policemen, and in Kabul, a would-be attacker died when a bomb he was trying to plant at a private university detonated prematurely.

According to a councilman in western Farah province, Abdul Samad Salehi, the ambush took place in Anardara district as the convoy was heading to defuse a roadside bomb on Wednesday afternoon.

Shortly after the attack, other Taliban insurgents targeted and briefly overran the district police headquarters, setting off hours-long clashes, Salehi said. Reinforcements arrived later and managed to wrest back control of the headquarters.

In Kabul, a bomb meant to target the private Jahan University blew up apparently prematurely inside a campus bathroom, killing the suspected militant and wounding three students.

Basir Mujahid, spokesman for the Kabul police chief, said the blast took place around 10:30 a.m.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the explosion but the Taliban and Daesh have targeted schools and placed of education in the past.

Also on Thursday, unidentified gunmen wounded a local reporter in eastern Nangarhar province, said Farid Khan, spokesman for the provincial police chief.

Khan said Emran lemar, a reporter for the Mazal radio station, was shot inside a park in the provincial capital of Jalalabad. He was hospitalized and a police investigation into the attack has begun, Khan said.

In March, Sultan Mahmoud Khirkhowa, a local TV journalist in eastern Khost province, was shot and killed when two men on a motorcycle opened fire on his vehicle. The Daesh affiliate claimed the attack in Khost.