Shut­ting down trolls

Sun.Star Pampanga - - OPINOIOPNINION -

Among the good things con­jured by the world­wide con­dem­na­tion of Face­book’s data breach and its be­ing prone to ma­nip­u­la­tion is its de­ci­sion to part­ner with re­spected en­ti­ties to fact check sto­ries, pho­tos and videos to en­sure the in­tegrity of the said so­cial me­dia plat­form. This is bad news es­pe­cially for the so-called Duterte Diehard Sup­port­ers (DDS), the main spread­ers of fake news and ma­nip­u­lated in­for­ma­tion in the Philip­pines.

In a news con­fer­ence two weeks ago, Face­book’s Alex Sta­mos said that the com­pany is cur­rently ad­dress­ing the fol­low­ing con­cerns: fake iden­ti­ties, fake au­di­ences grown il­lic­itly or pumped up to make con­tent ap­pear more popular, acts of spread­ing false in­for­ma­tion and false nar­ra­tives that are in­ten­tion­ally de­cep­tive and shape peo­ple’s views be­yond facts. Read that again and you will re­al­ize the DDS has been do­ing those.

Face­book’s main fo­cus there is to en­sure that sin­is­ter forces won’t use the com­pany to ma­nip­u­late elec­tions and other po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties. It has ap­par­ently learned the lessons from what hap­pened in the United States, (Brexit-era) Eng­land and, yes, the Philip­pines where per­son­al­i­ties and is­sues backed by these sin­is­ter forces tri­umphed.

“We’re try­ing to de­velop a sys­tem­atic and com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach to tackle these chal­lenges, and then to map that ap­proach to the needs of each coun­try or elec­tion,”Sta­mos said.

Samid Chakrabarti, Face­book’s prod­uct man­ager for civic en­gage­ment, talked about Face­book’s so-called proac­tive ap­proach, which in­cludes part­ner­ing with fact check­ers who re­view sto­ries on their own even be­fore Face­book asks them to do so. To the con­ster­na­tion of the DDS, Face­book’s part­ners in the Philip­pines are the much ma­ligned Rap­pler and Vera Files.

Rap­pler and its chief, vet­eran jour­nal­ist Maria Ressa, have been in the news lately, so we al­ready know them. In­ter­est­ingly, Rap­pler has long been track­ing down in­for­ma­tion ma­nip­u­la­tors on Face­book and has built a data­bank on them so fact check­ing wouldn’t be that dif­fi­cult al­ready for it now.

Vera Files, on the other hand, was founded fairly re­cently, or in 2008, by vet­eran and re­spected women jour­nal­ists led by Ellen Torde­sil­las. It has in its fold in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists Yvonne Chua, Luz Rim­ban, Booma Cruz, etc. In 2017, the non-profit on­line or­ga­ni­za­tion was ac­cred­ited into the In­ter­na­tional Fact-check­ing Net­work of Poyn­ter In­sti­tute, which is no mean feat.

“This proac­tive ap­proach has al­lowed us to move more quickly and has be­come a re­ally im­por­tant way for us to pre­vent divi­sive or mis­lead­ing memes from go­ing vi­ral,” Chakrabarti said. The ap­proach in­cludes look­ing for foreign-based pages pro­duc­ing fake news and ma­nip­u­lated in­for­ma­tion for a fee and re­mov­ing them from the plat­form.

An ex­am­ple: in the re­cent spe­cial elec­tion in Alabama in the US, Face­book’s proac­tive sys­tem iden­ti­fied and shut down a ring of spam­mers med­dling in the polls-and they came from, of all places, Mace­do­nia. Face­book is now de­ploy­ing the sys­tem to pro­tect the mid-term elec­tions in the US and the elec­tions in Italy.

With our very own mid-term elec­tions next year, I say the happy days of in­for­ma­tion ma­nip­u­la­tors and trolls will soon be over.

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