MANILA - Otso Diretso candidates, particularly Mar Roxas and Bam Aquino, were targeted the most by disinformation in the May 2019 midterm elections, an analysis done by University of the Philippines (UP) professors showed.
Disinformation came mainly from candidates aligned with the administration, the analysis also showed. Such false or out-of-context claims were made on social media and televised debates, as well as in the candidates’ campaign ads, speeches, and websites.
UP journalism professor Diosa Labiste, however, said that there is not enough evidence to establish whether this caused the candidates’ defeat or victory in the elections.
Faculty members of the UP Journalism Department analyzed 131 election-related claims flagged by Tsek.ph, a collaborative fact-checking effort among universities and media organizations, including ABS-CBN Integrated News and Current Affairs.
The group verified election-related claims made by candidates and big personalities from February to May 2019.
Their findings showed that Roxas, in particular, was a frequent victim of altered photos on Facebook.
In contrast, candidates from the administration party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago, were victimized by misinformation and disinformation only three times, based on the claims fact-checked by the group.
“It is not that other candidates did not resort to disinformation,” Labiste said. “Rather, there were more fact-checked claims disseminating false information that favored Duterte’s candidates and attacked his critics,” she added.
Victim of imposter content
ABS-CBN News, meanwhile, was the biggest victim of “imposter content” as ABS-CBN news reports were the most-often altered and spread on social media in the run-up to the May 2019 elections, false claims flagged by Tsek.ph showed.
UP journalism professor Yvonne Chua, who was part of the team that did the analysis, said that purveyors of disinformation “capitalized on a well-known brand,” like ABS-CBN, to amplify their content.
This, she said, is problematic as it erodes public trust in media.
Facebook was the favorite platform for disinformation in the 2019 elections, followed by television.
The most common types of false or misleading content related to the elections posted on social media were altered photos and fake infographics such as memes.
Against an anti-fake news measure
Labiste pointed out, however, that they are against proposed measures to regulate so-called "fake news," such as Senate Bill No. 9 or the "Anti-Fake News Bill" authored by Senate President Vicente Sotto III.
“Mahirap mag-create ng law which could be used against free expression,” she said.
For Labiste, disinformation or “fake news” could best be stomped through media literacy, fact-checking, and teaching social media users to be discerning when they access information online.
The Tsek.ph website, where the fact-checks were posted, was also subjected to hundreds of “suspicious attempts” to access the website in the months leading to, and after, the elections. Such suspicious attempts peaked in April, with a total of 339 attempts monitored.
According to UP Computer Science professor Jan Michael Yap, some of these were possibly hacking attempts, with 44 percent of them from the U.S., followed by Ukraine and Japan.
Yap said, however, that it could also be that these were not the actual location of those who were trying to access the site as the location could be “masked.”