Wenceslao: Shutting down trolls

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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