MANILA — Vice President Leni Robredo said Thursday she would go after social media users who spread fake news during the coronavirus pandemic, saying the "toxic" online environment created by trolls hurts society.
Robredo earlier this week denied online rumors that she sent spoiled food to the workers of a Quezon City hospital and her spokesperson supposedly offered cash to hush up the incident. The hospital also rejected the accusation.
The accusation came from multiple users on Twitter and Facebook simultaneously, said Robredo.
"May konduktor na siguro, 'Ito iyong topic natin ngayon.' In the midst of the pandemic, ano ba naman iyon, iyong mga nagbabayad sa inyo, ipangtulong na lang sa COVID-19 operation," she told ANC.
(There was perhaps a conductor who said, 'This is our topic today.' In the midst of the pandemic, those paying you should have just used the funds for the COVID-19 operation.)
The Vice President said she would seek a formal investigation into the incident and had assigned a team to gather evidence against those who spread the rumor.
This is not the first time that online misinformation targeted the Vice President's relief efforts.
Mocha Uson, a deputy executive director of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, shared to her 5.6 million Facebook followers in January a blog post claiming that Robredo gave relief packs with only 5 pieces of "pandesal" and a bottle of water to survivors of the Taal Volcano eruption. The Vice President denied this.
Robredo said her office in previous instances prepared complaints over fake news, but she backed down at the last minute because it was against her advocacy for the decriminalization of libel and cyber libel.
"Pero sa tingin ko (but I think), enough is enough," said Robredo.
"Hindi lang ito against sa akin. Against ito sa society as a whole... because they're (internet trolls) making iyong online space a hostile environment. Dahil nakakatago ng identities, lahat ng masasama ginagawa," she added. "I think it's time to make them accountable already."
(This is not just against me. This is against society as a whole because they're making the online space a hostile environment. Because their identities are hidden, they're doing all that is bad.)
Filipinos top the world in time spent on social media, according to a recent study.
Platforms like Facebook have become political battlegrounds and have helped strengthen President Rodrigo Duterte's support base, having been instrumental in his election victory in 2016 and a rout by his allies in mid-term polls last year.
The Duterte administration has repeatedly denied allegations that it has allowed the abuse and manipulation of social media by its supporters to harass and discredit opponents.
Facebook in May said it estimated the prevalence of fake accounts among its worldwide monthly active users at 5 percent.
— With reports from Reuters; Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News