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Robredo: Fact checking not enough vs. disinformation; we need to talk to each other again

Fact checking alone is not enough to curb fake news and disinformation; instead, talking to each other is needed, former Vice President Leni Robredo said on Tuesday.

“Kahit fact check ka ng fact check, if the structures for public discourse are not there anymore, 'di ka rin magiging successful," Robredo said during her keynote address during the forum on fighting fake news, misinformation and disinformation organized by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.

(Fact-checking again and again won't succeed if there is no space for discourse.)

"There is a need for public spaces where ideas can be challenged and debates can be healthy. If the strategy of disinformation actors is to stop us from talking to each other, then countering disinformation is talking to each other again,” she added.

Robredo said fact checking, which tends to antagonize people whose set of facts, truth and history are already distorted by disinformation, is not enough because influencer operations thrive in a continuum of lies and hate.

Instead, Robredo said this is the best time to build bridges and push for accountability. She cited Taiwan’s approach to fighting fake news fast, fair and fun with humor rather than rumor equipped with sturdy broadband speed, as well as the Check My Ads initiative wherein advertisers refuse to place ads on websites engaged in disinformation.

Robredo also lauded the efforts of Facts First PH which is a collaborative fact-checking effort of media organizations in the country, as well as legislation in the European Union which takes down social media posts proven false.

“Disinformation erodes spaces for consensus, and we have to repair those spaces and build new ones. These platforms [of information] should be regarded as public works [infrastructure] for public good, with an algorithm that is less prone to manipulation and bad actors,” Robredo added.

Free data

The former vice president also said disinformation or fake news thrive because internet service providers’ free data services do not include legitimate news.

Robredo, who returned home from a series of engagements in the US where she also widely spoke about disinformation and fake news, cited the study made by Filipino sociologists Jonathan Ong and Nicole Curato (Parallel Public Spheres: Influence Operations in the 2022 Philippine Elections) which revealed that telecommunications companies in the Philippines tend to offer free data with Facebook, messaging apps or games, virtually shutting the door to outputs by legitimate journalists and reputable news organizations.

“Unless such process, such privilege [of limiting free data to these services], is offered public scrutiny, ‘yun na lang ang source of information [ng tao]. They cannot access more legitimate sources of information dahil hindi iyon available sa free data,” Robredo said.

(The public is being limited to information available on free data. They cannot access legitimate sources of information because those are not on free data.)

“Access to social media is okay, free data on Facebook is okay, until one realizes that Facebook is not free for news content. Since they are not free, data regulators (those who provide data connection) have handed near monopoly of the flow of information to these platforms whose algorithm can be gamed,” Robredo added.

She said such monopoly crowds out journalistic output, paving the way for the trolls to go viral.

“This [lack of news content on free data] crowds out legitimate media communications. That is why influence of the legitimate media ay hindi na pareho noon dati. Iyong influence ng trolls, who work for the highest bidder, have the same [influence], if not more than traditional sources or trained journalists who follow certain code of ethics,” Robredo said.

(That is why the media's influence is not the way it used to be.)

“Volume becomes the name of the game, rather than truth or reliability. Mas important na iyong virality kaysa sa truth, which should not be the case at all,” she added.

(Virality is given more importance than the truth, which should not be the case at all.) —KG, GMA Integrated News