OF FAKE NEWS, EARLY POLITICS, AND NEW GENERATION OF VOTERS
Long before the Commission on Elections released the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Fair Elections Act, early or premature campaigning and fake news have already hit social media, putting into question the integrity and credibility of the upcoming May 2022 local and national elections.
The easy access to social media for one and all has “outmoded” the Fair Elections Act, and despite more regulations and guidelines are added to the latest IRR on social media campaigning spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic, there’s just no beating the power of social media to campaign prematurely, skirting the loopholes of the Act, such as for as long it does not say “vote for,” then a material can run its course in influencing opinions on certain candidates.
One of the supposed stricter measures on the usage of social media in campaigning is the prohibition on analyzing a person’s online usage to serve them materials known as “micro-targeting,” especially with electoral advertisements that specifically cater to their preferences.
While the Fair Elections Act states that the campaign period for those seeking national posts starts only on Feb. 8, 2022 and on March 25, 2022 for local elective posts, premature campaigning has been apparent on social media even before the deadline of filing of certificates of candidacy on Oct. 8.
One of the more pressing concerns towards next year’s election is the absence of guidelines on how the Comelec can make individuals seeking for elective positions accountable if any of their materials can be attributed to the spread of fake news that tend to promote one’s political ambition. At present, politicians can easily blame the spread of fake news as done by their supporters and therefore beyond their control.
We fully agree with a ranking Comelec official who warned that fake news, which is prevalent in social media, threatens the upcoming elections, along with vote-buying and new forms of early campaigning.
The series of caravans, organized mostly by supporters of presidential and vice presidential candidates, which are live-streamed on social media, have been ongoing in key cities and provinces in vote-rich regions and seemed not closely monitored by the Comelec even if it can be likened to campaign sorties during election periods.
This means that Comelec finds it difficult to define the activities that constitute premature campaigning, especially for incumbent officials while posters of other candidates are all over town sans the word “vote” to avoid being cited by Comelec for violation of the Fair Elections Act.
A Supreme Court decision in 2009 (Penera v. Comelec), which ruled that there is no such thing as premature campaigning because a person who has filed a certificate of candidacy becomes a candidate only upon the start of the campaign period, is one of the available defenses of any candidate cited for premature campaigning at this point in time.
Truth is, the IRR of the Fair Elections Act seem focused on regulating advertisements posted, aired, or broadcasted in traditional tri-media – namely print, radio, and television – despite supposed inclusion of additional guidelines covering online platforms, particularly social media.
With the youth as the most vulnerable victims of fake news widely circulated on social media, we call on non-partisan civic groups, including learning institutions, to help the Comelec in educating the Filipinos, especially the youth and first-time voters, about the value of the upcoming elections in deciding the future of our country. These institutions and groups must help these vulnerable voters to be more discerning when getting information through social media and how to spot fake news.
It is disheartening, however, that many adults are no different from the paid trolls who are now purveyors of fake news on social media if only to promote the political bid of their respective candidates ahead of the formal start of the campaign period.
Just like in the 2019 elections, the new generation of voters, who use and promote social media as a means of acquiring information and as a means of communications, will continue to be a major player in changing the country’s political landscape. Thus, the need for concerned institutions and groups to guide them to choose the future leaders with discernment.
We must put our acts together to ensure that an informed citizenry, especially the new generation of voters, is at the heart of democracy.