If we take the time to sift through what some personalities in the “journalism” and corporate “news” media communities have been screeching about, it would seem that Facebook is increasingly regarded as the source of all forms of misinformation nowadays. Indeed, in the Philippine setting, nowhere is this idea more aggressively promoted than in the incessant messaging of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa. Ressa is Philippine media’s self-anointed anti-“Fake News” crusader and self-appointed “fact checker”. Back in early 2018, Ressa dug deeply into position and set her gun sights squarely on Facebook asserting that “We’re seeing our democracy eroding in front of our eyes and Facebook is the platform where it’s happening.”
Even earlier, just a bit more than a year after Rodrigo Duterte ascended the Philippine presidency, Ressa was already pulling strings with foreign news media organisations to get herself air time and bandwidth to demonise the Duterte government and pin the blame for his rise to power squarely on Facebook for “allowing” certain types of campaigns that result in the ascent to power of “strongmen”. A late 2017 Bloomberg Businessweek feature on Ressa authored by Lauren Etter made liberal use of leading words and terms to steer its readers’ thinking towards these notions.
After Duterte won, Facebook did what it does for governments all over the world—it began deepening its partnership with the new administration, offering white-glove services to help it maximize the platform’s potential and use best practices. Even as Duterte banned the independent press from covering his inauguration live from inside Rizal Ceremonial Hall, the new administration arranged for the event to be streamed on Facebook, giving Filipinos around the world insider access to pre- and post-ceremonial events as they met their new strongman.
So what’s a “victim” to do? What else but get in bed with the “enemy”. This is exactly what Rappler did shortly after its emotional blackmail of the social media giant. In April of 2018, Facebook announced a “partnership with Rappler and Vera Files for a third-party fact-checking program in the Philippines which aims to prevent false news from spreading on the social media platform.”
“Partnering with third-party fact-checking organizations is one of the ways we hope to better identify and reduce the reach of false news that people share on our platform,” said Clair Deevy, Facebook Director for Community Affairs for Asia Pacific.
Rappler CEO Maria Ressa hailed the partnership with Facebook. “It’s what journalists do, and we’re happy to work with Facebook to help create a safe and sane public space for critical thinking and debate,” Ressa said.
But in reality, this seemed more like an ominous collusion rather than an honest initiative to rid the world of “disinformation”. Indeed, underpinning this “partnership” is a glaring conflict of interest considering that Rappler is, itself, a corporate news media organisation that is in competition for eyeballs with other big news media organisations like ABS-CBN, GMA Network, and the Inquirer Group among others. All these players compete for attention on the Internet and all maintain subscription accounts on social media platforms like Twitter and, of course, Facebook. In effect, Rappler presumes to “fact check” its competitors — and it does this in “partnership” with what is supposed to be a neutral carrier or communication channel, Facebook. It’s a crooked deal by design. Rather than make the channels and platforms more level, Ressa and her Vera Files henchwomen slanted it even more.
This conflict of interest was recently highlighted in a series of tweets fielded by Inquirer writer Dax Lucas who points out that such an arrangement “sets a dangerous precedent”. He goes further to assert…
I don’t want Rappler’s current methods to become the standard for validating my work’s quality or my news organization’s integrity. Fact checking is important (though I have reservations), but the prevailing scheme is PRONE TO ERROR and OPEN TO ABUSE.
Abuse of a powerful social media platform like Facebook that, if we are to believe people like Ressa, wields the power to influence entire national elections would, indeed, be a threat to the national security of any country. Interestingly enough, Maria Ressa thinks so too if we are to revisit her late-2017 through early-2018 statements. Perhaps she is right. Something needs to be done about Facebook.
This raises the interesting idea of altogether shutting down Facebook in the Philippines. Why not? Facebook is a private enterprise and, in recent times, had been found out to be a wolf in public services’ clothing. China, for one, does not let Facebook through its Great Firewall and, in Europe, governments and regulators are increasingly breathing down not only Facebook’s neck but also those of other big Silicon Valley titans like Google having recognised similar threats to the integrity of their own democratic processes.
One would be surprised if Ressa and her Vera Files cohorts would disagree with such a proposal. After all, having to “fact check” every “news” item or post on Facebook is a resource-intensive and “heroic” undertaking. Indeed, according to a New York Times report, Ressa’s “soldiers” are feeling rather “overrun”.
“It’s frustrating,” said Marguerite de Leon, 32, a Rappler employee who receives dozens of tips each day about false stories from readers. “We’re cleaning up Facebook’s mess.”
It seems, therefore, that the solution has become quite obvious thanks to the abundant insight Maria Ressa and her Rapplerettes have contributed on the matter. Facebook needs to be blocked from the Philippines’ Internet traffic. This, it seems, is the only way to get the media playing field back to some semblance of the fair degree of levelness it used to exhibit back in the days when social media was not around to grease the way for “fake news” to propagate (again, as Ressa incessantly asserts).
Seen under this light, it is quite evident that Facebook is, indeed, the threat to Philippine democracy that Maria Ressa and other “Fake News” Crybabies have been making it out to be. What is Duterte in power for if he cannot help make the Philippines a better place — a vision for a better place he could share with no less than Maria Ressa herself?
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