Too little, too late? Election commission calls for laws regulating social media, trolls during election season

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Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and his running mate, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, were recently proclaimed the Philippines’ next president and vice president. And with the May elections now officially concluded, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has decided now is the right time to push for laws that would regulate social media spending as well as the use of trolls during the campaign period.

Speaking on ANC’s news show Rundown, Comelec Commissioner George Garcia said, “We would like to readily admit that because of the absence of a law regulating social media in the Philippines that the Comelec is really powerless, at least [in monitoring social media during elections].”

The commissioner added that they were keen on lobbying Congress to pass a law that regulates social media expenditure and the use of trolls during the campaign period — while adding that the country’s Cyber Libel Prevention Act makes it difficult to prove and prosecute those who spread fake news and disparaging comments. “Easily, anybody who will be victimized by these trolls can file cases in relation to cyber libel but, of course, it is very difficult to prove and at the same time it’s very difficult to pinpoint the liability of the individuals in this case,” he said.

With numerous accounts from the recently concluded campaign season detailing coordinated inauthentic online activity as well the proliferation of disinformation on social media platforms, it’s a sentiment that many democracy activists would say is too little and too late for Comelec to voice now. 

The fact-checking collective Tsek.ph demonstrated that Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok were major purveyors of disinformation in the months leading up to the election, with Marcos’ closest rival, Vice President Leni Robredo, the “biggest victim” of coordinated trolling campaigns. 

In early April, Meta (Facebook’s parent company) announced that it had suspended a network of over 400 accounts, pages and groups related to the Philippines elections in order to crack down on hate speech and misinformation. In January, Twitter suspended more than 300 accounts linked to a pro-Marcos network for violating the company’s platform manipulation and spam policy.

The group US Filipinos for Good Governance (USFGG) also launched a website called Troll Exposer that identified 102 trolls by running publicly available data through artificial intelligence, as these accounts worked with each other and filled their profiles with pro-Marcos content while targeting Robredo with false accusations that she is a communist sympathizer and disparaging her accomplishments.

A Washington Post report also revealed that a pro-Marcos disinformation network had already been in place long before the 2022 elections and reported on how much professional trolls were able to earn for their work, which consists of disseminating “scripts” across social media platforms that propagated myths about the Marcoses.

Marcos’ camp has repeatedly denied employing troll farms, with the President-elect once daring detractors to “show [him] one troll. They don’t exist.”

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