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.


Indian court finds spiritual guru guilty of raping devotee

Updated 25 April 2018
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Indian court finds spiritual guru guilty of raping devotee

NEW DELHI: An Indian court on Wednesday found a high-profile spiritual guru Asaram Bapu guilty of raping a teenage female devotee in 2013 and he faces a maximum of life in prison.
The verdict against 77-year-old Bapu was read out inside a prison in the city of Jodhpur in Rajasthan state because of fears that his followers may resort to violence.
The case is the latest in a series of high-profile rape cases in India that have fueled public protests and raised questions about how police handle the cases and treat the victims.
In August last year, another popular and flamboyant Indian spiritual guru, Dr. Saint Gurmeet Singh Ram Rahim Insan, was sentenced to 20 years in prison on charges of raping two female followers.
Judge Madhusudhan Sharma will announce the prison term for Bapu later after hearing arguments from the prosecution and Bapu’s attorneys.
Bapu has denied the rape and can appeal his conviction in a higher court.
The girl in her complaint to the police in 2013 accused Bapu of raping her when she visited his retreat in Jodhpur with her mother. The girl’s family said they had been followers of Bapu for more than a decade.
Bapu has been in prison since his arrest in the case in 2013.
On Wednesday, security was tight around the prison complex and in states where the self-styled guru has a considerable following.
Religious sects also wield considerable political clout in India with several politicians as followers. Asaram is also on trial along with his son Narayan Sai in a separate rape case where two sisters have accused the two men of sexual assault.