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.


Hong Kong bans pro-independence party

In this file photo taken on August 5, 2016, Andy Chan (R), leader of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party (HKNP), gives a press conference at the start of a rally near the government's headquarters in Hong Kong. (AFP)
Updated 24 September 2018
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Hong Kong bans pro-independence party

  • The ban is likely to raise further questions about Beijing’s growing influence in the former British colony, which was promised semi-autonomy as part of the 1997 handover

HONG KONG: Authorities in Hong Kong on Monday took an unprecedented step against separatist voices by banning a political party that advocates independence for the southern Chinese territory on national security grounds.
John Lee, the territory’s secretary for security, announced that the Hong Kong National Party will be prohibited from operation from Monday.
Lee’s announcement did not provide further details. But Hong Kong’s security bureau had previously said in a letter to the National Party’s leader, 27-year-old Andy Chan, that the party should be dissolved “in the interests of national security or public safety, public order or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.” Chan had no immediate comment.
That letter had cited a national security law that has not been invoked since 1997. The ban is likely to raise further questions about Beijing’s growing influence in the former British colony, which was promised semi-autonomy as part of the 1997 handover. Chinese President Xi Jinping and other officials have warned separatist activity would not be tolerated.
Chan, the National Party leader, had previously told The Associated Press that police approached him with documents detailing his speeches and activities since the party’s formation in 2016.
The party was founded in response to frustration about Beijing’s treatment of Hong Kong. Despite a promise of autonomy, activists complain mainland influence over its democratic elections is increasing.
Chan and other pro-independence candidates were disqualified from 2016 elections to the Hong Kong legislature after they refused to sign a pledge saying Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China. The Hong Kong National Party has never held any seats on the council.