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Jose Abeto Zaide

By José Abeto Zaide


Those of our generation born pre-Vatican II who are longer in the tooth hold fast to eternal verities and the Apostles’ Creed. We had the certainty that the sun would rise in the east and settle in the west. We also believed that mother knows best, and the news is always “everything that’s fit to print.”

Of course, we would read in modern history about the excessive Nazi propaganda of Joseph Goebbels. But we could not conceive that the Allied side could tell anything but the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Today’s generation is confronted with fake news, a type of yellow journalism of deliberate misinformation or hoax inserting into traditional print, broadcast, or online social media. Fake news misleads to gain financially or politically, often with sensationalist, exaggerated, or patently false headlines to titillate readership, online sharing, and Internet click revenue. Fake news undermines serious media coverage, it proliferated as political hype and terrorist propaganda. Hillary Clinton is said to be one recent victim. The ISIS is said to thrive on it; and so does the Maute.

Senator Francis Pangilinan moved for an inquiry into social media platforms that spread fake news and called for penalties. According to media analysts, developing countries such as the Philippines, with the generally new access to social media and democracy, feel the problem of fake news to a larger extent. Facebook is one of the largest platforms being an open website, that works as a booster to sway the opinion of the public due to manufactured stories. Facebook provides free media sources, but it does not provide users with the access to fact-checking websites. Because of this, government authorities call for a tool that will filter out “fake news” to secure the integrity of cyberspace in the Philippines. Rappler, a social news network in the fake news, fake accounts, bots and trolls, which Rappler thinks are being used to silence dissent. Senator Pangilian holds that creation of fake news, and fake news accounts on social media is a threat to the political health of the country. Journalists often risk their lives in publishing articles that contest fake news in the Philippines.

Senator Joel Villanueva filed Senate Bill 1492, An Act Penalizing the Malicious Distribution of False News and Other Related Violations. Fake news is defined as “an information causing or tending to cause panic, division, chaos, violence, hate,” and those exhibiting or tending to exhibit “a propaganda to blacken or discredit one’s reputation.”

Under the proposed measure, any person found guilty will be punished with a fine ranging from P100,000 to P5 million and one to 5 years imprisonment. Any person who aids in the creation and spread of fake news will face a fine ranging from P50,000 to P3 million and 6 months to 3 years imprisonment.

Any mass media enterprise or social media platform that fails, neglects, or refuses to remove false news will be penalized with a fine ranging from P10 million to P20 million and imprisonment ranging from 10 to 20 years. Under the bill, public officials caught violating the measure will face stiffer penalties – twice the amount of fine and length of jail time, and absolute perpetual disqualification from office.

The author seems to recall the accusation made by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II regarding the Marawi crisis in which he tagged various opposition senators and other people as masterminds of the attack based on a photo shared through social media and other blog sites which produces fake news.

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When my father was cutting his teeth as news hawk for the Evening News, he had a ho-hum beat at the Bureau of Fisheries. So he ran a story about a miracle local fish variety that could even wiggle on dry land, something like an evolution of a mermaid. Only after his editor confronted him two days after the story became a minor sensation did he confess that he just made it up… because his editor had kept bugging him for a newsworthy story.

Parenthetically, there’s the story of a Maranao hawker and his gold rings. He told an interested matron that she could test its genuineness in vinegar. When she tried it by dousing the item in vinegar, the gold blackened and the matron wanted to return the item. But he insisted that his gold ring was real, but “fake ang suka mo” (you used fake vinegar).

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