Senate Should Also Probe Biased Mainstream Media


Philippine Senator Francis Pangilinan filed Senate Resolution 271 on Wednesday, January 18, directing the appropriate committee to probe “the proliferation of misinformation and fake news sites in social media platforms, particularly on Facebook,” seeking to penalize the platform for “inaction.”

Facebook has assured Pangilinan that they “take misinformation seriously” and were “working.. to address the issue of fake news and hoaxes.” Independent of the senator’s resolution, the social media giant has been exploring ways to address the issue for a while now, engaging third parties to help with fact-checking and warning netizens about the accuracy of information posted on Facebook.

The Senate probe in itself will not have the authority to penalize Facebook or other social media platforms since like any other legislative inquiries or investigations, the goal is simply to “aid in legislation.”

But banning misinformation on social media is a lot more complicated than making Facebook and others responsible for posts on their networks.

Social network posts are generated by individual users, and while Facebook and others have established “community guidelines” to moderate content, the very concept of social media is the sharing of information in accordance with the universal principle of free speech. As such, posts are the sole responsibility of the individuals.

The individual responsibility goes beyond just sharing accurate information. Likewise, individuals have the responsibility to fact-check what they read on social media, to scrutinize content beyond just headlines, and to take some effort to confirm the veracity of their sources.

It takes just common sense to do this. Anonymous posts are always suspect. There’s the “About” pages of websites. Most legitimate sources have disclaimers — including sufficient warning that their content is satire or merely for entertainment.

If the post seems too good to be true, or to be too unbelievable, then perhaps they shouldn’t be taken at face value. It’s so easy to check sources. “Breaking news” would usually be reported in multiple sources, including legitimate news media.

And we’re not just talking about “trolls” and “fake news” here. Even news from legitimate and mainstream media have to be taken with a grain of salt. The reality is that they have their own obvious biases.

To illustrate our point, a recent nationwide poll showed that the approval rating for President Rodrigo Duterte’s has remained extremely high while that of Vice President Leni Robredo declined by as much as 12 points.img_8580

An audit of headlines by the various Philippine mainstream media showed a very subjective treatment of the facts.

Some totally disregarded what should have been the main headline, and that is, Duterte’s high approval rating. Instead, they heralded that Robredo’s approval rating “remained high,” despite the points decline.

Others focused on pockets of data from specific cities or regions where Duterte’s rating dropped a few points.

So, if Pimentel is serious about his intent to discourage misinformation, then he should direct the inquiry beyond just Facebook. Include every mainstream media. And yes, blogs of the likes of Cynthia Patag and Raissa Robles.

After all, presenting one side and one side only — without the benefit of proven facts — is tantamount to misinformation.


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