[OPINION] The lies they pushed on Election Day

This is a #PHVote newsletter sent to subscribers on May 17, 2019.

I'm Vernise Tantuco, a researcher and writer for Rappler's data and fact-check team. My work focuses mostly on disinformation and our fact-checking initiative.

The election season was an exciting time to observe the kinds of false and misleading claims that circulated on social media, whether circulated by partisan camps or by voters expressing their sentiments.

‘Invisible ink’ 

One thing that stood out to me among the claims we checked was that Filipinos voters are – unsurprisingly – paranoid about cheating during elections. (READ: FALSE: 2019 election ballots are 'pre-shaded' with UV ink) 

Filipinos voting abroad, in particular, were worried that their ballots might be tampered with, since they didn’t get to feed their ballots into the vote-counting machines (VCMs) themselves.  

The week before election day, May 13, a video of a ballot that was allegedly pre-shaded with invisible ink (the kind that can only be seen under a UV light) went viral. People who reposted the video and uploaded screenshots of it accused the opposition slate Otso Diretso of playing dirty, and called out the Comelec for supposed incompetence. 

In the end, as the Comelec pointed out, the ballot used in the video wasn't official. The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), the National Citizen's Movement For Free Elections (Namfrel), and a former source code reviewer for the Nationalist People's Coalition said the VCMs don't count UV marks as votes. 

Other fact checks that week:

The so-called ‘matrix’ 

Another claim that made headlines the week before elections didn’t originate from social media but from the Office of the President. Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo dropped an elaborate “matrix” on Wednesday, May 8.

It was bad timing, to say the least. We were deep into prepping for election coverage by then, with the Research and Tech teams making arrangements for monitoring the Comelec’s transparency server at Pope Pius XII Catholic Center. 

We decided not to fact-check Panelo’s diagram – it was a distraction from what we felt was more important work. All his claims prompted a “no proof” rating anyway – boring!  

Related stories:

‘Disqualified’ candidates 

We were all hands on deck on Election Day, with our Movers in the provinces helping confirm claims of disqualification of candidates that the fact-checking team was getting. We were also re-publishing – and being republished by – Tsek.ph, a collaborative project between newsrooms and the academe to fact check the elections.  

The night before the elections, during Rappler’s special coverage, our news editor Miriam Grace Go warned voters of last-minute dirty tricks by political camps, and foremost of them was spreading false information about rival candidates supposedly getting disqualified or withdrawing their candidacies. 

True enough, most of the claims we fact-checked on Election Day were last-minute attempts at sabotaging opponents – allegations that certain candidates or party-list organizations had been disqualified, or that certain personalities no longer supported their candidates.  

Many of the claims that were emailed to us were on vote-buying in the provinces. We passed these over to our civic engagement unit, Move, which consolidated these reports. There was no way to verify on the day whether these were outright true or false. (In the same live interview on May 12, Go observed how the “well-intentioned campaign to prevent vote-buying” had been “weaponized” by candidates who had connections with law enforcers to harass their rivals.) 

Fact checks on Election Day:

Will Leni step down? What is TIM?  

Election Day may have ended, but we’re still seeing and receiving claims related to it.  

Two claims stood out to me in the days following May 13.  

The first alleged that Vice President Leni Robredo said she would step down if no one from Otso Diretso won a Senate seat. This made the rounds on Monday night and Tuesday morning, when the partial, unofficial results showed that none of them made the “Magic 12.”  

The other claim was that Davao businessman and Duterte ally Dennis Uy bought Smartmatic’s local partner Total Information Management (TIM) Corporation in late 2018. This went viral on Wednesday morning, and Uy denied the allegations in the afternoon. He even threatened to sue whoever spread the rumor about him. (READ: Dennis Uy denies investing in Smartmatic-TIM) 

Misleading or false claims that spread online – at least, the ones emailed to us by readers or brought to attention by Facebook – are often political in nature, with attacks coming from both supporters of the administration and the opposition.  

Fact-checks after Election Day:

Will our fact-checking and research completely eradicate disinformation on the internet? It would be naive of me to say yes.  

But if Filipinos become just as suspicious of outrageous claims as they are of election cheating, I’d say that’s a win. – Rappler.com 

Want to know more about our fact checking initiative? Check out the links below: 

And if you see anything suspicious online, send a link and a screenshot to factcheck@rappler.com!