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.


Britain identifies Russians suspected of Skripal nerve attack — report

Updated 8 min 35 sec ago
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Britain identifies Russians suspected of Skripal nerve attack — report

LONDON: British police have identified several Russians who they believe were behind the nerve agent attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, the Press Association reported on Thursday, citing a source close to the investigation.
Skripal, a former colonel in Russian military intelligence who betrayed dozens of agents to Britain’s MI6 foreign spy service, and his daughter Yulia, were found unconscious on a public bench in the British city of Salisbury on March 4.
Britain blamed Russia for the poisonings and identified the poison as Novichok, a deadly group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet military in the 1970s and 1980s. Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attack.
After analyzing closed-circuit television, police think several Russians were involved in the attack on the Skripals, who spent weeks in hospital before being spirited to a secret location, Press Association reported.
“Investigators believe they have identified the suspected perpetrators of the Novichok attack,” the unidentified source close to the investigation said, according to PA.
“They (the investigators) are sure they (the suspects) are Russian,” said the source, adding security camera images had been cross checked with records of people who entered the country.
A police spokesman declined to comment on the report.
After the attack on the Skripals, allies in Europe and the US sided with Britain’s view of the attack and ordered the biggest expulsion of Russian diplomats since the height of the Cold War.
Russia retaliated by expelling Western diplomats. Moscow has repeatedly denied any involvement and accused the British intelligence agencies of staging the attack to stoke anti-Russian hysteria.
Mystery surrounds the attack.
The motive for attacking Skripal, an aged Russian traitor who was exchanged in a Kremlin-approved spy swap in 2010, is still unclear, as is the motive for using of an exotic nerve agent which has such overt links to Russia’s Soviet past.
Novichok put the Skripals into a coma, though after weeks in intensive care they were spirited to a secret location for their safety.
“My life has been turned upside down,” Yulia Skripal told Reuters in May. “Our recovery has been slow and extremely painful.”
A British woman, Dawn Sturgess, died this month after coming across a small bottle containing Novichok near the city of Salisbury where the Skripals were struck down. Her partner, Charlie Rowley, is still in hospital.
A British police officer was also injured by Novichok while attending to the Skripals in March.