'Fake news' innovations increased in 2019 PH midterm polls: study

Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 12 2019 11:00 AM | Updated as of Aug 12 2019 11:03 AM

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MANILA - The spread of disinformation increased and spawned innovations in the 2019 midterm elections, media experts said Monday.

Media experts Jonathan Ong and Jose Mari Lanuza said social media has become "central" to a politician's campaign.

"Fake news has increased, multiplied, diversified, more pervasive than ever," Ong told ANC's Headstart.

"In the past, social media was experimental. It was just an add-on to existing on-ground campaigns and the airwar of TV, radio and print. Now it’s more central. The social media strategist has more of a say in the branding of the politician."

In their study titled “Tracking Digital Disinformation in the 2019 Philippine Midterm Elections” released on August 9, the academics noted that the use of parody accounts and social media influencers has become widespread.

Parody accounts are used for a more discreet and subtle spread of "fake news," according to Ong.

"That could be the opposition, sometimes it could be the candidates themselves so they could control the negative press also," he said.

Social media campaigns also employ "people who need quick money" in troll farms, Lanuza said.

They could earn as much as P1,000 a day by simply "copy-pasting" the campaign messages of politicians, Ong said, while the whole social media project would cost P3 million for 3 months.

"Comparatively speaking, it’s pretty cheap compared to a TV ad. For some of them it's actually a cheaper buy," he said.

The study called for more "transparency initiatives" instead of content regulation in the next elections.

"We’re arguing for a shift from content regulation to process regulation. With the paper trail of the money, we can track where the money of the senators are going and if you see if there are scrupulous amounts they're spending online maybe we should look into that," Lanuza said.

Ong, meantime, warned of anti-fake news measures such as the proposal of Senate President Tito Sotto.

"We worry of anti-fake news regulation. It’s a strategy in the end to muffle opposition, dissenting voices. We’ve seen that pattern in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia," he said.

"Instead of focusing on taking down content, shouldn’t we instead be doing more transparency initiatives?"