News PHL Vote 2022

Coalition urges Facebook to address electoral disinformation in 2022 polls

A coalition of lawyers, academe, civil society and advocacy groups both local and international is calling on Facebook to provide transparency and increased resources against disinformation as the 2022 polls draw near.

“In light of the upcoming 2022 Philippine national elections, we, undersigned members of Philippine civil society and local and international human rights groups, strongly urge you to provide comprehensive information about Facebook’s content moderation initiatives with respect to the upcoming Philippine national elections,” said in the open letter addressed to Facebook.

The Movement Against Disinformation (MAD), which was launched on Nov. 17, addressed its letter to Facebook’s Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, its Human Rights Director Miranda Sissons, and the Director for the Philippines John Rubio.

The group noted how the social media platform will play a “significant” role in making sure that the May elections are clean and fair.It appealed to the Facebook executives not to allow the platform to be exploited and used as a weapon against democracy in the country like what happened in the 2016 polls.

“The Filipino people—your most active users—deserver better,” the letter stated.

The members of the coalition are the Philippine Bar Association (PBA), Philippine Chapter-New York Bar Association, Lyceum of the Philippines University, Ateneo de Naga, Ateneo de Davao, Xavier University, Alternative Law Groups, Ateneo Human Rights Center, SALIGAN, Karapatan, iDefend, Wiki Society of the Philippines, Pinoy Media Center, Foundation for Media Alternatives, Ateneo Sanggunian, and some faculty of the Ateneo Law School.

MAD chief convenor, Tony La Viña, said the coalition was formed to fight the spread of disinformation in social media and will work with several media organizations and Facebook in the effort.

“We should not underestimate how important the work that this movement will try to do first in the elections and even beyond,” he said. “To make sure we all understand the impact on citizens and society, especially this coming campaign and elections, the impact on our democracy and politics we do want to build capacity on spotting disinformation.”

La Viña also noted that it was important that student organizations were present at the launching of MAD and are involved in the activities of the coalition which will need volunteers from various sectors.

“The idea is to be able to engage with them so that we can find a collective solution,” he stressed.

The open letter, read by lawyer Enrique Domingo of PBA, noted how Facebook was used in 2016 to help place the country’s current leaders in power.

“In 2016, we witnessed Facebook’s full power in shaping public opinion affecting our democracy. Your platform became the most effective political advocacy tool when it helped install into power those who heavily utilized it in the 2016 national elections,” the letter stated.

“In a systematic and widespread reprisal against dissent, the government, especially the military and the police and their allied anti-communist groups, has been using Facebook to ‘red-tag’ activists, particularly members of the progressive Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives,” it added.

MAD said progressive lawmakers have been harassed and accused of being communist guerrillas and terrorists, placing them in grave danger.

“Even state universities are targeted like the University of the Philippines, and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, which state authorities accused of being ‘recruitment grounds’ for rebels, and a nest for activists-turned terrorists,” the letter further said. “These malicious top-down attacks—which have resulted in physical harm and attacks on individuals—are certain to worsen during the campaign.”

While Facebook partnered with third party fact-checkers and purged pages and groups that disseminate misinformation and disinformation, MAD said that this was not enough.

“These measures do not address Facebook’s continued reliance on algorithms…The result of your algorithm is a people divided into echo chambers, impaired from distinguishing fact from fiction, truth from lies,” MAD pointed out.