VERA FILES FACT CHECK YEARENDER: VP poll recount, Dengvaxia issue spark the most fake news online in 2018

Fake news and its many variants are almost always based on current events and controversies.

The pattern continues this year as seen in 236 viral posts reviewed by VERA Files Fact Check from April to December under its partnership with Facebook.

From politics and international disputes to natural disasters, we compiled a list of the top issues in the country that triggered the most number of fake news posts this year.

Vice President election recount

Ex-senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. filed in June 2016 a protest to contest the victory of opposition leader Vice President Leni Robredo in the May 2016 elections by a slim margin of 263,473 votes. The Presidential Electoral Tribunal started the vote recount in April.

VERA Files Fact Check was able to track 11 false, fake, misleading and unproven posts in 2018 that supposedly present hard proof of poll cheating, declare Marcos to have already won the case, or demonize Robredo.

One example is an April 21 report, which claimed to contain a video that shows Robredo “ordering” to burn Marcos’ ballots. The video does not bear out the claim. The post could have reached over 1.8 million people based on CrowdTangle analytics. Self-proclaimed Duterte support pages on Facebook were its top traffic generators.


Dengvaxia controversy

The dengue immunization program during the term of former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III has been under heavy scrutiny since late 2016 for alleged anomalies in the purchase of P3.5 billion-worth of vaccines. The Public Attorney’s Office has blamed the vaccine for 92 deaths as of October.

VERA Files Fact Check was able to track 10 viral posts triggered by the Senate hearings and cases filed against Aquino and his appointees throughout the year — four were downright false, three were misleading, two were fake while one was partly true. Eight carried content that was totally unrelated to the Dengvaxia issue that either attacked Aquino, his parents or his allies or praised the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos Sr.

A July 18 Dengvaxia-related post falsely claimed Aquino had already been arrested for graft two days after the National Bureau of Investigation filed the charges. It could have reached over 1.7 million people.


Ninoy Aquino’s 35th death anniversary

Fake news producers commemorated the 35th death anniversary of slain opposition leader Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino II with eight mostly false, misleading and baseless claims as tracked by VERA Files Fact Check.

Though majority of the posts carried newly produced content, a number of these were old claims or stories that were merely revived or reshared a few days after Aug. 21.

For instance, two misleading posts published on Aug. 26 presented as recent a press briefing in 2016, where former President Fidel Ramos alleged Marcos Sr.’s wife, Imelda, knew of Ninoy’s assassination beforehand. The post could have misled over 3.4 million people.


PH-Kuwait dispute

The diplomatic row between the Philippines and the Kuwaiti government erupted in April after Philippine Ambassador Renato Villa was ordered to leave the Gulf state for conducting “rescue” missions of abused Filipino domestic workers without coordinating with Kuwaiti officials.

The tension between the two governments generated eight viral posts by VERA Files Fact Check’s count: Three were fake, another three were misleading, and the remaining two were false.

Majority of the posts claimed to carry videos that showed Kuwait to have kowtowed to Duterte. One post, triggered by Duterte’s decision to declare a deployment ban, bore the headline:


The story could have reached at least over 1.9 million people.


Upcoming 2019 midterm elections

As the midterm elections in May 2019 draw closer, fake news producers have started to focus on some senatorial candidates as targets of disinformation. Their favorite: Sen. Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino.

Among the eight midterm election-related posts tracked by VERA Files Fact Check, half portrayed Bam as either a “credit-grabber” or trapo (traditional politician).

For instance, one post fabricated a story that the senator used the rehabilitation efforts of the government in Boracay and Pasig River as campaign material for his reelection bid. Another accused him of being a hypocrite for “embracing the poor” in order to win votes and showed a photo of Bam eating street food, a supposed election propaganda. The report did not offer any evidence to support its claim.


Other issues of diplomacy, disasters

Close behind the above five controversial issues, generating six viral posts each, were the ongoing preliminary examination of the International Criminal Court on deaths attributed to the Duterte administration’s drug war; the onslaught of Typhoon Ompong; and the country’s maritime dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea.

(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)