Diehard supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte or so-called DDS have raised their concerns about Facebook’s recent initiative to partner with fact-checkers and prohibit fake news (as verified by the fact-checkers) from being posted or shared on its social media platform. Some DDS bloggers and even some members of mainstream media have called the initiative censorship.
But is it really?
Censorship, according to Wikipedia, is the suppression of speech or information. The basis could be many things but usually it is for content that is found objectionable or harmful by the government or the community.
Conceptually, censorship happens when a third party (the government or the community) prevents another (usually the media) from sharing or publishing information. When a person or the media suppress their own speech with no compulsion from a third party, it is called self-regulation (sometimes self-censorship).
With the rise of social media as a platform for individuals to express and share their thoughts or ideas, what do we call it when the social medium (Facebook) itself suppresses information (fake news) posted or shared by its users with no compulsion from the government? Based on our definition and concepts, it would then be both censorship and self-regulation!
So yes, blocking fake news posted or shared by users on Facebook is technically censorship. But it is also self-regulation. Let’s explore the implications.
The negative connotation that is stirred by the word censorship usually comes from the situation when the government prohibits or cracks down on speech. This is because governments may abuse their power on what kind of speech they prohibit – from acceptable censored information such as child pornography to unacceptable censored information such as criticism of government officials.
And so the question we must ask – if the blocking of fake news by Facebook is censorship – is whether or not such censorship is acceptable and prone to abuse.
Fake news are lies and propaganda that manipulate people and prevent them from making informed political decisions. It’s next to impossible for any rational person to support the proliferation of fake news on social media. We all aspire for the truth and we are all benefited if people can agree on the facts and the truth. We don’t need fake news to identify real news.
Facebook banning fake news is just like its existing regulations that prohibit users from posting or sharing hate speech and child pornography – all of them are harmful to people and societies. Studies have shown that lies spread faster than the truth! And fact-checking the lies don’t reach the same amount of people.
And so, Facebook is just self-regulating its own power to help lies or disinformation from harming a lot of people and democracies.
Now, is banning fake news prone to abuse? Hardly. The partner fact-checkers, Rappler and Vera Files, are accredited fact-checkers by an international organization. If they wrongfully fact-check the news or reports, their accreditation will be removed. If they are biased or partisan, individuals and other media outlets will call them out and their credibility will go down before the international organization of fact-checkers.
Facebook is a global player. It has no incentive to side with Rappler or Vera Files if they are not doing their job properly. The DDS have already threatened to leave Facebook for its choice of partner fact-checkers. A company does not want its customers to leave or hold a boycott.
More importantly, Facebook is a private company and not a state or government. It has no incentive to side with either DDS or dilawans or any other simplistic political group label. Unlike governments that engage in censorship, Facebook is not likely to ever crackdown on dissent or criticism in favor of one side in politics. There is no reason why it will ban one side’s fake news while allowing another side’s fake news. Again, its customers or users will not tolerate such bias and they will migrate to another social media platform.
It might be unthinkable to believe Facebook users will ever leave the platform but Friendster and MySpace once looked unbeatable. While Jimmy Bondoc and other DDS bloggers have suggested leaving and migrating to VK or weibo, other popular social media and messenger apps such as Line, WeChat, and WhatsApp are also compelling alternatives.
But by banning fake news, Facebook is betting its users will stay and grow. I’m betting on Facebook’s gamble. – Rappler.com
Jesus Falcis is a radio anchor, a public interest lawyer, and a lecturer of the Department of Political Science of the Far Eastern University (Manila). He teaches law-related subjects and has taught Communication students Media Law and Ethics.