Philippines complains Facebook fact-checkers are biased

FILE PHOTO: A 3D-printed Facebook logo is seen in front of displayed stock graph in this illustration photo, March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

By Manuel Mogato

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines government criticized on Monday Facebook's choice of two independent online news platforms to help fight the spread of fake news, saying they are biased against President Rodrigo Duterte.

Facebook said last week it would partner with VERA Files and Rappler IQ to launch a third-party, fact-checking program aimed at preventing the spread of false news on the social media platform in the Philippines.

But Duterte has accused Rappler, which has a reputation for its investigative reporting and its tough questioning, of trying to undermine his government, perhaps with the help of U.S. spies, and the Securities and Exchange Commission has rescinded its operating license for violating foreign ownership rules.

Rappler continues to operate pending an appeal.

"We would also like to register our protest at the choice of fact-checkers by Facebook and this will be on the agenda when we finally get to sit with them soon," Loraine Badoy, assistant secretary at the Presidential Communications Operations Office, said in a statement.

Research has shown Filipinos to be among the most active social media users in the world, spending on average more than four hours a day on platforms like Facebook.

Duterte, a former mayor from outside of the sphere of national politics, tapped into social media to help him win a 2016 election by a huge margin.

Last year, lawmakers began an inquiry into the proliferation of what they saw as fake news on the internet.

Duterte spokesman Harry Roque welcomed Facebook's desire to counter fake news, but he noted some people had complained that "the chosen police of the truth are sometimes partisan themselves".

A Facebook spokeswoman did not comment on the government's protest and referred Reuters to a statement last week announcing the partnership with Rappler and VERA Files.

"Partnering with third-party fact-checking organizations, is one of the ways we hope to better identify and reduce the reach of false news that people share on our platform," Clair Deevy, Facebook's director for community affairs for Asia Pacific, said last week.

There was no immediate comment from Rappler.

Ellen Tordesillas, president of VERA Files, said "non-partisanship and fairness are among the requirements for an international fact-checking network accreditation".

VERA Files and Rappler IQ are the only two Philippine-based members of an international fact-checking network at the Poynter Institute, a journalism school in the United States.

Privacy concerns have swamped Facebook since it acknowledged last month that information about millions of users wrongly ended up in the hands of political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, a firm that has counted U.S. President Donald Trump's 2016 electoral campaign among its clients.

(Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by Darren Schuettler)

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