Big Sisters are Watching: Rappler and Vera Files set to become Facebook’s INFORMATION POLICE!

A “report” published on Rappler today announced that the world’s largest social media corporation, Facebook, has enlisted the services of Rappler and Vera Files to provide “fact checking” services in the Philippines. According to the “fact checking process” to be followed under this arrangement, Rappler and Vera Files will be reviewing “flagged” stories and will, determine whether they are “false” or not, and at the same time, apparently wield the power to have these stories “placed lower in the News Feed” to make them “less visible”.

Interestingly, Clair Deevy, Facebook Director for Community Affairs for Asia Pacific sees this initiative as “an important step in instilling digital literacy among Filipino Facebook users.” One needs to challenge this notion, however, from the perspective of whether authorising private organisations to serve as information gatekeepers actually contributes to “digital literacy”. In the real sense of the term, digital literacy involves skills and experience navigating diversity on the Net and applying a critical mind to the consumption of online information. Putting constraints on diversity has never been a solution and is actually more a slippery slope that could easily lead to the much-feared dystopia described in George Orwell’s seminal book 1984.

1984 describes a regime where every bit of information exchanged between its citizens is monitored by an all-seeing “Big Brother” and where a language referred to as “Newspeak” with a vocabulary that excludes certain terms that articulate concepts deemed offensive to the social order is enforced as the lingua franca. Under the arrangement with Facebook, this chilling story finds parallels in how Rappler and Vera Files go on to serve as the “Thought Police” described by Orwell in his book as the enforcers of Newspeak. Indeed, many have already observed that such a real-life Newspeak and Thought Police actually already exist in the form of “politically-correct speech” and the derisively-termed “political correctness (PC) police” many talk about today.

The implementation of “fact checkers” that wield the power to censor Facebook newsfeed content marks a reverse in what had been a trend towards a true free market of ideas that social media was once celebrated for supporting. Like any form of freedom, such a free market of ideas demands that its participants produce and consume sensibly. Under arrangements such as what Facebook, Rappler and Vera Files are pioneering in the Philippines, information traded over Facebook will be policed.

Here is where Filipino users of Facebook should take particular heed. The notable difference between the information policing to be applied by Rappler and Vera Files and the policing done by conventional state forces is that the earlier two are private sector agents who are accountable only to their respective stakeholders. As private agents, Rappler and Vera Files necessarily bring biases to their “police” work inherent in the sets of stakeholders with vested interests in their business operations. These stakeholders are not representative of the broad public base unlike, say, the popular representation applied by a state body like Congress or the popularly-elected officials of the Executive branch of government. In short, Rappler and Vera Files are held to account not by the Filipino public but by private interests.

The irony in all this is that Facebook is already widely-criticised for being a private sector for-profit business enterprise that wields awesome power over the exchange of infomation. It is ironic because further private sector oversight over the control of this information is now being employed in the form of this arrangement with Rappler and Vera Files.

This is a classic case of an ill-framed problem driving the forumlation of a flawed solution that could cause even bigger problems.

Indeed, it is a simple matter of getting back to first principles. Rappler and, to a lesser extent, Vera Files are supposed to be news reporting media services. A news media organisation such as Rappler in particular getting in bed with another media corporation with the explicit intent of applying additional control over information should raise eyebrows rather than assure an already shaken public. More importantly, the question of ownership over the information hosted within Facebook’s data centres has become a hot topic of public debate. In light of that, the idea that a business enterprise such as Rappler adding an additional layer of control over that contested information is something that begs further scrutiny.

At its very root, Facebook’s trouble started when it began to apply artificial influence over its users’ newsfeed. In employing “fact checkers” who, at the same time, also determine what gets shown and what gets suppressed from Facebook users’ newsfeeds merely adds to this fundamental problem. As the venerable Albert Einstein say, you cannot solve a problem using the same thinking that created it.

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11 Comments on “Big Sisters are Watching: Rappler and Vera Files set to become Facebook’s INFORMATION POLICE!”

  1. So it turns out that those fake news hearings, “defend press freedom” rallies and that Cambridge Analytica thing (since they’re insinuating that the Duterte presidency is a product of fake news and data misuse) were meant to resolve to this– Facebook tapping Rappler And Vera Files for further control of information. It’s basically confirming some people’s theories. And it’s not as if some of us didn’t see this coming. Still think FB and Rappler are working independently?

  2. FaceBook is now trying to censor the minds of its readers, with the aid of Rappler.com and Vera Files. It will make FaceBook , another propaganda media of the liberal left and the Aquino Cojuangco political axis.

    What you read in FaceBook, will be sanitized news, like what we have for the last 30 years of Aquino era. I don’t think that , Maria Reesa’s Rappler.com and Vera Files, are the guardian of truth.

    It is like entrusting the Typhoon Yolanda Fund to Mar Roxas and Aquino; of which the fund disappeared from the face of the Earth.

    Under Maria Reesa and Vera Files’ watch. The truth truth, will be santized and deodorized, to fit their political agendas. Some users will be banned, because of imagined infractions of their rules. Some comments will be erased, because, they run contrary to their thinking , and political and personal agendas.

    Anyway, Maria Reesa’s Rappler.com is getting bankrupt. Maybe, she just want funds to prevent her Rsppler.com from sinking to the bottom.

  3. They can try, but Facebook is not the only venue for things they can sanitize to suit their agenda. If anything, this meddling by both identified yellowtard organizations will only increase people’s disdain for anything they are involved in. I say let them do it, and watch them dig their graves faster.

  4. She doen’t have that profile of a natural born pilipino. She’s either a east indian/srilankan born.

  5. Who today is mad enough to challenge the virtues of eliminating hypocrisy from politics? Or of providing more information—the direct result of self-tracking—to facilitate decision making? Or of finding new incentives to get people interested in saving humanity, fighting climate change, or participating in politics? Or of decreasing crime? To question the appropriateness of such interventions, it seems, is to question the Enlightenment itself.

    And yet I feel that such questioning is necessary.

  6. If this happens I am going to join any petition that will be made in deleting Facebook. Since it is also the “mother” of fake news today.

  7. Where are the “free speech advocates”? Why are they silent about this? Where are our “respected” media personalities, our “thought leaders?” This day and age is really revealing what kind of hypocrites and incompetents have been dominating Philippine society for decades.

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