In the midst of the rapidly approaching Philippine midterm elections this 2019, Facebook has announced a renewed effort in combating the online plague of fake news, in efforts to bring about a “more informed electorate” in the country.
On Thursday, Facebook’s Global Politics and and Government Outreach director Katie Harbath stated that one of the social media mega-platform’s foremost goals during election periods is to emphasize and prioritize the voices of the people, while “making it harder” for adverse users to interfere in the election — that is, users who disseminate false information, as well those who abuse the platform for a variety of reasons, including misinformation, misrepresentation and foreign interference, phishing, harassment, and violent threats — all of which tend to intensify during heightened political climates such as election periods.
Harbath further revealed Facebook’s plans of partnering with organizations in their mission towards digital literacy, including the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to conduct trainings on online safety and responsible reporting on elections, as well as online news site Rappler for enhanced fact-checking.
Recently, Facebook also banned a host of sites and pages for similar spamming and inauthentic behavior, including Filipino Channel Online and Trending News Portal, both of which are headed by digital company TwinMark Media Enterprises.
This response, as well as Facebook’s renewed surge for digital literacy, comes at the heels of the widely-publicized data breach controversy barely a year ago, when the platform was revealed to have utilized its users’ data for Donald Trump’s political campaign in the US through Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm.
In the Philippines, the dilemma of fake news is one the nation has long been familiar with, since its coming into public consciousness around the time of the 2016 presidential elections. In the years since, the issue has remained a consistent adversarial force, particularly on sites such as Facebook that Filipino masses have easy access to. And with the rise of social media came a remarkably uncomplicated and cheap medium for easy communication — something politicians quickly used to their advantage.
Indeed, it wasn’t long before Facebook became a major player in producing political propaganda in the midst of the 2016 elections — so much so that some have dubbed it the “social media elections.” But along with the social-media fuelled campaign also came an onslaught of negative elements: fake news, troll accounts, and “like”-driven fan pages are only some of the methods that materialized in efforts for political promotion.
Three years later, and the methods remain probable — likely, even — strategies in the upcoming elections, which makes Facebook’s renewed campaigns sorely needed — but not entirely trusted. Unfortunately as it seems, despite its prominence, there is never a guarantee that a figure as broad-reaching as Facebook will be able to completely eradicate every single negative element in its sphere. It has, in a sense, trapped itself in a corner of its own making, growing exponentially larger than it could handle. There is only so much it can do to reverse its damage, and the rest still inevitably falls to us. That is, it remains our responsibility, as users, to navigate the pitfall-laden world of Facebook, and make it a better space in future than it is now.