Toral: Beyond pranks and politics: The urgent call for a misinformation law

Digital Rebel
(Janette Toral)
(Janette Toral)

I was recently interviewed about an April Fool’s Joke of a food service brand where a person had a tattoo made on his forehead hoping to win the prize. The company ended up giving a portion of the prize and the person who joined the contest received support as well from others who empathized with his situation. But later on, it was found out that the contestant and business owner knew each other and claimed that the whole thing was staged. Should those who gave additional help have their money returned?

Misinformation, defined as false or inaccurate information, especially when intended to deceive, poses a multifaceted threat to democracies, public health and societal harmony. The issue has spurred a global discourse on the necessity of legislation to curb the tide of misinformation without impinging on the fundamental right to freedom of expression.

Misinformation can manifest in many forms and can be spread through different channels, intentionally or unintentionally. They include false news, misleading headlines, deepfakes, manipulated media, rumors, urban myths, disinformation, social media bots and trolls, pranks, and even April Fools’ jokes that are not immediately recognizable as such.

Each type of misinformation has its challenges and requires specific strategies to counteract effectively. Strategies can include fact-checking and verification, media literacy education, transparent communication from trustworthy sources, and technological solutions to identify and mitigate the spread of false information.

Misinformation battle

on the West Philippine Sea (WPS)

Certain columnists, influencers and politicians have disseminated viewpoints that align more closely with Chinese claims over the WPS, despite the international legal ruling favoring the Philippines.

Misinformation may involve incorrect statements about the legal status of the territories within the WPS, the nature of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ruling, or the activities of various countries in the region. Downplaying or misrepresenting the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s decision can serve to confuse the public or diminish support for the Philippines’ claims.

Misinformation can also aim to weaken international consensus or support for the Philippines by exaggerating the potential for diplomatic resolution without enforcing the arbitration outcome.

Is it time for a misinformation law?

The call for legal measures is not a call for censorship but a plea for accountability, transparency, and the safeguarding of the public sphere from malicious falsehoods.

Legal frameworks can mandate transparency in political advertising, require verification of information sources, and penalize the deliberate dissemination of falsehoods, thereby protecting the sanctity of the democratic process. Health misinformation can be swiftly identified and countered, safeguarding public health measures and interventions.

The possible misinformation law must be carefully calibrated to target false and harmful content without encroaching on individual rights to express opinions and share information. Transparency, due process, and the provision for appeals are essential components.

It should be complemented by public education initiatives to enhance media literacy, foster critical thinking and empower individuals to discern credible from false information.

It is time for a misinformation law. Talk to your senators and Congress leaders to consider filing bills to help us navigate the treacherous waters of misinformation, ensuring a resilient and informed public sphere.


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