“Lies are spreading, history is being twisted, and the fabric of Filipino society, already frayed, is stretched, made taut, at risk of tearing.“
The Movement against Disinformation (MAD), which I chair, has pointed out that cases of electoral disinformation are on the rise as the Philippines’ 2022 elections near, as noted by independent fact-checkers.
Lies are spreading, history is being twisted, and the fabric of Filipino society, already frayed, is stretched, made taut, at risk of tearing. Something must be done so that truth and transparency prevails and we will have an election that is safe, free, and fair for all Filipinos.
This is why MAD has written open letters to Meta (which owns Facebook and Instagram) as well as to Google (which owns YouTube, and TikTok. I wrote about our Meta letter weeks ago when we launched MAD and we have gotten a response from them and have launched an engagement with their global and Philippine policy team.
In our letter to Google, we recognized how in the Philippines, the company holds a near-monopoly over the presentation and organization of information. MAD observes that Google Search consistently ranks as the most-visited site in the Philippines and as the most-used search engine by Filipinos. Likewise, its online video service, YouTube, has become the second-most-used social media platform in the Philippines. Amid YouTube’s growing popularity, more Filipinos rely on it for news.
MAD asked Google to urgently adopt and implement these measures:
1. Improve the enforcement of policies against disinformation. Engage more content moderators and fact checkers fluent in the Filipino language to counteract malicious actors. Partner with experts, respected members of the academe, and civic organizations dedicated to fact-checking and flagging erroneous information. Support Philippine journalism by supporting fact-checking, news literacy and citizen groups fighting disinformation. Policies against disinformation should be enforced without bias, websites that spread disinformation should be banned from Search and YouTube creators spreading electoral disinformation and historical revisionism should not be allowed to monetize their YouTube channels and should be removed if not pushed down to be unnoticed in the search engine.
2. Render transparent the moderation of disinformation. Google and YouTube must disclose the full criteria used to flag content as disinformation during the election period. We ask that Google be transparent over its election-related initiatives. Archives of flagged and deleted content should be collated and made public, revealing the nature of removed content and the identity of the accounts that post and share them. Google should commit itself to conduct and publish a human-rights audit on the impact of Google and YouTube in relation to the Philippine elections post-mortem.
3. Empower stakeholders. Google should inform users and give them more context whenever they see political or issue-based content. Officials from Google and YouTube should meet, publicly and transparently, with stakeholders (media, civil society, and academe) to disclose how they plan to tackle election-related disinformation. Truthful content from established, authoritative sources should score better in ranking systems, while content spreading disinformation should be flagged and “pushed down” in the algorithm, if not deleted.
As for TikTok, we pointed out that it has became the most-downloaded entertainment app in the Philippines, holding strongest sway among the youth: among TikTok’s ever-growing number of users, 62 percent of whom are 10 to 29 years old, an age demographic various groups deem not only as “highly impressionable” but also as “vulnerable consumers” due to “their age, credulity, or lack of maturity.”
We asked them to implement these actions:
1. Replicate in the Philippines the measures undertaken for the US 2020 elections. TikTok must also provide an in-app guide for the 2022 Elections in the Philippines. The guide must be made available in English and Filipino, and it should be translated to the regional languages of the Philippines. Content and accounts spreading election-related disinformation and misinformation, flagged by independent fact-checkers, must be taken down with dispatch. Moreover, content containing spurious information should be identified as such with an in-app label and be barred from being recommended into users’ feeds.
2. Commit more resources and empower users to combat disinformation in the Philippines. TikTok should partner with credible and independent fact-checking groups in the Philippines (media, civil society, and academe) to sift through and flag content for electoral or historical disinformation. TikTok should also hire and train more fact checkers to moderate content posted in relation to the 2022 Elections. Users should be empowered to flag content for disinformation and, thereafter, TikTok must quickly act to resolve it.
3. Conduct and publish a human rights audit. TikTok should publish the full criteria it uses to flag content as electoral disinformation. We ask that TikTok render transparent its election-related initiatives and its archive of flagged and deleted content. The nature of removed content and the identity of the accounts that post and share them should likewise be disclosed. TikTok should commit itself to conduct and publish a human-rights audit on its impact on Philippine elections.
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