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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Who’s afraid of Ressa’s Rappler and Tordesillas’ Vera Files?


IF there is one thing evident in the current ruckus surrounding the decision of Facebook to contract the services of Rappler and Vera Files as fact-checkers for news sites, it is that Filipinos are more concerned about the trampling of our freedom of expression than the infringement of our privacy rights. After all, there was no widespread indignation here over the Cambridge Analytica controversy, even if it was shown that more than one million Filipino FB accounts were compromised.

What fuelsthe outrage more, particularly among pro-Duterte netizens, is the fact that Rappler and Vera Files are unabashedly anti-Duterte and have demonstrated their bias against social media blogs with pro-Duterte content.

It cannot be denied that Facebook has become fertile ground for the propagation and spread of fakery. Just recently, around the same time that news about Facebook’s contracting Rappler and Vera Files broke, the obviously bogus video featuring Mark Zuckerberg went viral in social media.

In a digital world of social media blogging, knowledge as power is now measured no longer on the authenticity of content, but in terms of engagement. “Engagement” is no longer a political project of “engaging” power, or speaking truth to power, but as a numerical indicator of how many people are able to react to a particular post, meme, rant, or FB live. And in this world, the casualty may in fact be truth itself.

Studies have shown that misinformation, disinformation and propaganda generate more engagements since they spread faster and appeal to more people than objective, scientific claims to truth.Truth is no longer what we know as fact, but what is produced. Post-truth emerged as a celebration of the meme, the shout-out and the representation that one propagates as part of an agenda to influence politics that valorizes the popular and emotional, and not the scientific and factual.

It is undeniable that many major bloggers have become the mouthpieces that purports to articulate so-called convenient truths contrary to what experts are saying, and that what they post are almost unproblematically accepted and shared by many of their followers. This is further aggravated by the anti-intellectualism that is pervasive in social media, and even among professional journalists who host radio talk shows and write columns, with their disdain for academic expertise.

But what makes patently anomalous Facebook’s selection of Maria Ressa’s Rappler and Ellen Tordesillas’ Vera Files as fact-checkers is that it gives the impression that they are qualified to be moral and ethical guardians of truth, uncompromised by their own political biases. Their being chosen by Facebook could thus be taken as prejudicial in that it tacitly assumes that only social blogging pages and accounts with pro-Duterte content—which on record have been shown to be the target of Rappler and Vera Files’ fact checking—are guilty of propagating and spreading disinformation and misinformation. Ellen Tordesillas has on many occasions been very vocal in targeting Mocha Uson as a peddler of fakery and has accused the President as the biggest source of fake news. Maria Ressa echoes this, by lending the semblance of a journalistic warrant on the allegations that make it appear that only those bloggers and sites with pro-Duterte content are guilty of fakery.

We have yet to see, hear and read Ressa’s Rappler and Tordesillas’ Vera Files call out the obvious fakery that is also peddled by many anti-Duterte social media pages and accounts. What is even more outrageous is that they themselves become active propagators of anti-Duterte fakery, as seen in Rappler’s inflated number of alleged victims of the so-called “extrajudicial killings,” and Tordesillas’ unvetted records in Excel format of the President’s alleged bank deposits.

At the heart of the anger and frustration is the fact that Facebook has positioned two partisan hands in determining what is factual in social media and has elevated their biased lenses as the rubric upon which to judge which news site to flag as bearers of fakery.

There is no doubt that people behind Rappler and Vera Files are partisan voices hiding behind the cloak of being journalists.

Thus, while there is also no doubt that there is fakery that needs to be called out in social media, Rappler and Vera Files are absolutely unqualified arbitrators of truth. Contracting them as fact-checkers has become a more serious threat to free speech than the fakery they are tasked to weed out.

While posts bearing fakery can be ignored by a reader that is empowered to make a choice. Rappler and Vera Files are now given the power to flag sites which they would label as bearing fakeryusing their partisan and biased lenses.They would then advise Facebook to block these sites. This is partisan censorship, and it effectively denies the netizens their rights to make their own choices of which post to read and which to ignore.

Outraged by the anomaly of biased Rappler and Vera Files being contracted to fact-check, despite the fact that they also deserve to be fact-checked, many pro-Duterte netizens are voicing their intent to flee Facebook and migrate to other social media platforms.

But other than flight, there are other ways to deal with Rappler and Vera Files.

First, we can deny themthe pleasure of administering our truths. This can be achieved by a concerted effort to deny them the opportunity to inflict their partisan biases, not by leaving Facebook, but by using it as a teaching and learning opportunity for everyone to be critical, ethicaland truthful. This can be achieved by policing our ranks, and by educating ourselves not to be bearers and spreaders of fakery. After all, and whoever will be tasked to fact-check, only fakers should be afraid of fact-checking.

And second, we can turn the tables onRappler and Vera Files and subject them to our own fact-checking. The outrage over their designation as fact-checkers should be transformed into vigilance to expose every grammatical error and every factual inaccuracy they commit.

We should not be afraid of Rappler and Vera Files. In fact, they should be the ones who should fear us.


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