Seares: Bongbong-Leni protest vulnerable to assault by fake-news fabricators

Medias Public

“There are many speculations that Marcos has won and VP Robredo has lost. Those speculations are not true...”

-- Romulo Macalintal, the Vice President’s lawyer, asking on Monday (Oct. 7) the Presidential Electoral Tribunal to provide the Marcos and Robredo camps with summary and report on revision and recount of ballots from three pilot provinces.

THE protest filed by former senator Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos against Vice President Leni Robredo has many attractions to lure manufacturers of false or fake news:

[1] It has been long-running and yet ever-current as tension mounts on how the Supreme Court, sitting as presidential electoral tribunal (PET), will rule and what it means.

[2] Facts trickle as PET is stingy with information. The process is not like a sports contest and not an election tally where the results are given in periodic installments.

[3] Even data and opinion from the Bongbong and Leni camps are cautious and meager, each being covered by a contempt warning. The rule on “sub-judice” (“under judgment,” before the court) is being tightly enforced, unlike in many other litigations.

[4] Aside from deep public interest, the stakes are high. The protest winner won’t just be confirmed as the “true victor” in the 2016 political battle but will earn huge advantage in the 2022 presidential election. If Bongbong would win, he’d be more strategically positioned for the next race to Malacanang. Moreover, he’d be the legal successor, not VP Leni, waiting in the wings for the vacuum in leadership.

[5] People are easily misled because of the complex issues and complicated procedures. Despite efforts of many sectors of media to explain how things work, pretty much of the news consumers find it hard, or don’t bother, to understand, making them more vulnerable to deception.

No surprise the protest has been preyed on by fake news fabricators continuously since Bongbong filed his complaint three years ago.

Not quick enough

The sporadic but consistent attempts to mislead are shown in a number of false claims being made by articles in certain websites and blogs and posts in social media. The latest being purveyed by a website unmasked by Rappler last Oct. 4 about “new evidence of widespread cheating by Robredo.”

A falsehood is exposed by some fact-checking organization but the unmasking of bogus claims may not be quick and effective enough.

And they won’t be much of a deterrent, particularly because the perpetrators are not punished and the shutdown, if any, takes time and much effort.

Spotting falsehood

Media literacy, media are told, is the answer. Explain the working of PET and the process of electoral protest. With that knowledge, the media reader or listener will spot the falsehood early on. A perceptive consumer will see the fakery from the headline and the first two paragraphs.

Even with increased alertness of media consumers, the ways of deception and skills in pulling it off also improve. The encouraging note is that there has been reportedly a decrease in reliance on news from anonymous or unidentified news portals and more people are turning to trusted media outfits with gatekeepers.

What to expect

On the Bongbong-Leni protest, in the second round of discussions scheduled Tuesday (Oct. 8), the tribunal (a) may junk Marcos’s protest completely if it finds no “substantial recovery of votes” for Macos, after the recount in three provinces (Iloilo, Camarines Sur and Negros Occidental), (b) proceeds to review the results of the 36,465 precincts where Bongbong alleges fraud by Leni, or (c) approves investigation into ballots from Basilan, Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao.

There’s a lot of discretion for the tribunal: An abrupt end comes if PET throws out the protest because of the initial results in the review of the three pilot provinces and by virtue of Rule 65. Or a long, tortuous road by ignoring Rule 65 and taking any one or the two other steps. Either way, that’s a lot too for many media consumers to follow.

However news will be taken by those who read and watch them, media must continue telling not just facts under “what” and “who” but also those that answer “why” and “how”. Antidote to bogus news is increased knowledge of consumers in the working of media and the process of governance.

Who profits?

Perhaps more importantly, the consumer must know which media organization to trust. The first basic step is to trust the media outfit whose journalists and group the consumer can hold accountable for what they publish.

And the consumer who is fooled easily by spurious news is he who just takes the commodity without knowing its source, the way it is peddled and whether it sucks and recognizing that it does.

It may also help the literate consumer to ask, Who profits from the deception? In the Bongbong-Leni controversy, it shouldn’t be tough to identify the camp that benefited from the fake stories?


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