Disinformation threatens 2022 elections integrity: Nobel Peace Prize winner tells Senate panel

January 12, 2022

TO HAVE an “integrity of elections” in 2022, the country should defeat disinformation as soon as possible, Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa said at the Senate committee investigation on the disinformation machinery online.

“If we don’t have an integrity of facts, we will not have integrity of elections. If you look at every study of fascism globally, they first tear down the facts,” said Ressa at the third hearing of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes.

“Facebook is now the world’s largest distributor of news and yet studies have shown that lies laced with anger and hate spread faster and further than the really boring facts. So the reality is, the platforms that deliver the facts to you are biased against facts, they are biased against journalists. And they are, by design, dividing us and radicalizing us,” she added.

Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, who heads the Senate committee conducting the hearing, said the unprecedented scale, speed, and scope of technology used in disinformation distorts the truth that allows people to make informed decisions.

“Ganito kasama ang kasinungalingan. Apektado ang kalusugan at kaligtasan nating lahat, ang kaban ng bayan, at ang kaayusan ng ating lipunan. Masama na nga ang sitwasyon, sinasamantala pa ang pagka-desperado ng ating mga kababayan sa mga pakalat ng mga paninira,” he said after citing the disinformation on the volunteer-driven program on online consultation and the Typhoon Odette relief operations in Siargao.

“Ano ang pinapatay ng ‘infodemic’ na ito? Ang katotohanan. At pag patay na ang katotohanan, paano pa nating malalaman kung ano totoo sa hindi totoo. Sa kasinungalingan sa katotohanan? Paano tayo magpapasya nang maayos kung kasinungalingan ang basehan ng ating pagpapasya?” Pangilinan said in his opening statement.

According to Ressa, one of the faster ways to defeat disinformation is to create a law that would penalize technology and social media companies that continue to allow disinformation and misinformation to proliferate in their platforms.

“In our country, what can we do? The quick solution would be to actually hold the platforms accountable for what they spread, what they allow to spread. And when you do that, I bet you that you would automatically see a shrinking of information operations,” Ressa said.

For Ressa, the “infodemic” online has catapulted the narratives of populist regimes, including President Rodrigo Duterte’s “us vs them” narrative, which has now further divided the Filipino people.

As to the fears that the legislation might trample on freedom of speech, Ressa argued that it is the algorithm of the distribution channels that are seeking to be controlled and not the content.

“So where are you going to intervene? Don’t intervene in the content because you can actually be accused of censorship,” Ressa explained.

“But if you go to the algorithms of amplification… because everyone can say what they think. But what your neighbor said never reaches broadcast scale until today, because there have been no guardrails on the distribution of lies,” she added.

Pangilinan shared Ressa’s sentiments in his opening message, saying that the “infodemic” threatens democracy.

“’Infodemic’ threatens the very fiber of our decency as a people. The situation has gone so very bad that even the traditionally quiet community of 18 business groups issued a statement against disinformation and hate speech,” he said.

The lawmaker vowed that he will support any move that will hold accountable the individuals behind the proliferation of fake news and the channels that amplify the same.

“We must have laws that are up-to-date, responsive to the needs of the times, foolproof as best at it can be against the ingenious minds of criminals ika’ nga… We have to craft new laws or legislation cognizant of the new complications that technology poses,” Pangilinan said.

“Sama-sama po nating iilawan ang madilim na mundo ng ‘infodemic’. As we grapple for sharper weapons to defeat the night, we shall remember that our torches are puny when alone. Light shines brightest when all the torches stand together in firm defiance of evil,” he added.