Now that Facebook is in bed with Rappler and Vera Files an important question needs to be raised: Is Facebook now acting like a media operation in the Philippines? A foreign one? It is an important question to mull over because under Philippine law, media organisations are barred from being invested in by foreign entities.
A statement on the “partnering” of Facebook with Rappler and Vera Files released by their newsroom describes the arrangement and how fact-checking works under this arrangement…
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Fact-checking stories. News stories flagged on Facebook will be reviewed by Rappler IQ and Vera Files, who have both been certified through a non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network. These fact-checkers will review the story, check the facts, and rate the accuracy of the story.
Placing false stories lower in News Feed. Stories that have been rated false by a fact-checker will be placed lower in your News Feed, significantly reducing the chances of you seeing it.
Taking action against Pages and websites that repeatedly share false news. Pages that repeatedly share false news will see their distribution reduced and their ability to monetize and advertise removed.
Here’s the important point to note. The above guidelines effectively spell out an editorial governance framework and process. By exercising editorial governance on content it serves to Filipino citizens, Facebook can arguably be considered to be in the business of delivering edited content to Filipinos and is no longer acting as “just a platform” for exchanging unadulterated user-generated content.
So is Facebook still operating within the framework of Philippine law?
All the other news media organisations legally operating in the Philippines employ editorial teams governed by editorial processes similar to the one Facebook now employs in “partnership” with Rappler and Vera Files. In short, Facebook has joined the club of media organisations with editorial teams that apply governance over the delivery of content. But has Facebook joined this club legally?
Food for thought there.
For that matter, the “partnering” with Rappler and Vera Files is problematic to begin with. What if the “stories” being “reviewed” for “authenticity” happen to be stories critical of Rappler and Vera Files themselves? Who then makes the call? Rappler? Scary indeed. Chilling, even.
According to the Facebook statement, the two Philippine organisations are “signatories of Poynter’s International Fact Checking Code of Principles” and that…
Poynter is internationally recognized as the leading convener, teacher and community-builder for fact-checkers around the world.
Well and good.
But just because Poynter is “a non-partisan International Fact-Checking Network” does not mean Rappler and Vera Files are the same. Both are known to be explicitly partisan. Vera Files is headed by noted “journalist” Ellen Tordesillas who is a staunch supporter of convicted mutineer and, now, “senator” Antonio Trillanes who is one of the highest profile and most vocal critics of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Rappler is squarely aligned with the Opposition as well. Its CEO, Maria Ressa, is also a vocal critic of Duterte and has participated in numerous protest activities against the Philippine government. They are hardly the impartial “fact checkers” that this latest Facebook initiative is making them out to be.
Facebook needs to tread carefully when it comes to its Philippine operations. Its platform is given considerable preference by carriers such as Philippine telco giant Globe Telecoms (which is partially owned by giant Singaporean telco SingTel). Most Filipinos spend almost all of their Internet activities within the Facebook platform thanks to Filipino carriers such as Globe excluding much of the data accessed by Filipino users that originates from Facebook from data charges. Because Facebook data is free, most Filipinos’ online activities tend to be disproportionately confined to Facebook. Facebook is effectively The Internet for most Filipinos.
That essentially makes Facebook an entity of particular interest to Philippine regulators. It exerts disturbingly disproportionate control over Filipino citizens’ Internet activities and, even more importantly, their access to it. Its arrangement with carriers can even be regarded as collusive in nature. Carriers are a public utility and should be transmitting data and content without prejudice towards any one or other content producer or digital service. This arrangement with Facebook runs counter to such principles. This is another aspect of its operations in the Philippines that should be raising regulators’ eyebrows.
Indeed, Facebook is already in enough trouble all over the world thanks to the brouhaha surrounding the diligence it applies to protecting its users’ privacy following the explosion of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Even more astounding are reports that Filipinos are among the most potentially affected by this breach…
Outside the United States, the Philippines had the largest amount of user data acquired by Cambridge Analytica, with 1.17 million accounts in the country affected, the National Privacy Commission (NPC) said last week.
In a letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, dated April 11, the NPC said it would look into how Facebook shares personal data of Filipino users with third parties, and demand concrete action to protect their data privacy rights.
“We are launching an investigation into Facebook to determine whether there is unauthorized processing of personal data of Filipinos, and other possible violations of the Data Privacy Act,” it said in the letter, made available to the media on Friday.
Privacy breach and potentially operating illegally as a media company in the Philippines now that editorial governance is set to be applied to the content it serves to Filipino citizens. It is possible that Facebook management is in a panic and is making a lot of bad decisions, one of which is this so-called “partnering” with Rappler (itself in trouble with Philippine regulators) and Vera Files (an unabashedly partisan organisation). The managers of Facebook’s Philippine presence need to step back and take stock of the bigger picture. Applying more governance over users’ newsfeeds is not the right solution. In fact, it is what got Facebook in this awful mess to begin with.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.