Recently, the Philippine Senate held a hearing on the subject of fake news and its spread mainly through popular social media platforms. The hearing was initiated by some of the seven senators who reacted to an online site that criticized them for not signing a resolution that called for a stop to extra-judicial killings associated with the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.
What was revealing in that particular Senate hearing was the mindset displayed by a couple of pro-administration bloggers that they were merely exercising their freedom of speech as guaranteed in the Constitution, facts and propriety be damned.
At one point in the hearing, Senator Bam Aquino engaged PCOO Asec Mocha Uson in an exchange about the responsibility of bloggers to validate the information they publish in their social media accounts. Ms. Uson’s core argument was that bloggers, unlike journalists, are not obliged to vet the stories that they write about.
This is a troubling assertion. Social media, despite its obvious contribution to linking people together online and destroying physical barriers between continents and races, is a double-edged sword that can, and has already hurt, Philippine society. The thumbing down of accountability and fairness, essential values that are inherent to professional journalism, by just about anyone who can draw a throng of followers on social media is a sign that our society is in a rut.
When that assertion are made by bloggers who enjoy, nay flaunt, the imprimatur of the President, those among us who simply ask for objectivity and fairness have nowhere to go. The Senate’s bid to legislate fake news is not going to cut it. President Rodrigo Duterte at the outset already nipped it in the bud, vowing to veto any such measure that Congress will present to him.
The raw power of social media is not going to kill professional media, or at least that is a belief that we in the profession hold so dearly. But it is the obligation of society, and not just of its leaders but primarily by its individual members, to be aware of the dangers the abuse of communications technology may bring.
Fake news are insidious. They are not simply fodder for entertainment. They are tools of deception that we should all beware. And in today’s age of social media platforms where spreading fake news is easy as ABC, discernment is a must.