PCOO protests Facebook partnership with Rappler, Vera Files

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 16) — The Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) praises Facebook's efforts to combat fake news — but it isn't as supportive to the partners the social media giant picked.

Facebook partnered with online news agency Rappler and media organization Vera Files to identify and block sites espousing false information.

The two news agencies are identified as critical of the Duterte administration. Vera Files has a fact-checking series that monitors and points out contradictions in the President's speeches and claims.

"We give our all-out support to [Facebook] in their efforts to combat the creation and spread of false news," Communications Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy said in a statement on Monday.

"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," she added.

Badoy said the PCOO was looking at talking with Facebook soon to discuss possible agreements on responsible social media use.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque weighed in as well on Facebook's partnerships Sunday.

"I commiserate with those who object to the selection of Rappler and Vera Files, because they know — we know — where they stand on the Filipino spectrum," Roque said in a media briefing.

Malacañang has a strained relationship with Rappler, as it barred its correspondent Pia Ranada from covering events in the Palace in the wake of a regulatory case against the news website over an alleged anti-dummy law violation.

In January, the Securities and Exchange Commission revoked Rappler's business license. Although it has since been allowed to operate, the Bureau of Internal Revenue slapped the agency with a P133.8-million tax evasion case in March.

Rappler has maintained it operates legally, and decried the move as a harassment.

Roque also noted complaints that "the chosen police of the truth, so to speak, are sometimes partisan themselves."

However, both Rappler and Vera Files are accredited by the International Fact Checking Network (IFCN), a unit of journalism school Poynter Institute.

Vera Files President Ellen Tordesillas pointed out in a statement, "One of the requirements for an IFCN accreditation is non-partisanship and fairness."

In a statement Monday, Rappler said it accepted the responsibility of fact-checking because it has seen "how lies have ripped us apart as a society, fomenting hate and anger."

The statement, published on Rappler's website, said the process was "meant to encourage free speech that does not harm and does not invent. Because the reality is, power groups are using "free speech" on Facebook to stifle free speech, as shown in various cases here and in neighboring countries."

Roque advised Facebook users to voice out their qualms with the partnership.

"My advice is for the Facebook users to make their wishes known to Facebook. The possibility of shifting is always there," he said.

Some vocal supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte, particularly singer Jimmy Bondoc and former Environment Assistant Secretary Paula Defensor Knack, mulled over transferring in protest of the team-up with Rappler and Vera Files.

Bondoc on April 13 called on his followers to delete Facebook.

"I guarantee you, if this (partnership) happens, I will personally commence a nationwide petition to delete Facebook," he said in all caps.

Defensor Knack announced her migration to Russian social media site VK last week and urged their followers to follow suit.

"We shall return to Facebook if [President Duterte] or the country is in trouble," she said on her page.

Facebook is also under worldwide scrutiny for the spread of false information on its platform.

It is also in the hot seat for a data scandal that may have influenced the 2016 Presidential elections in the United States. Political consultation firm Cambridge Analytica, which worked with U.S. President Donald Trump, was sold personal information from millions of users obtained through Facebook.

Related: Why Filipinos should care about their personal data online

In repercussions closer to home, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica claimed on its website to have helped a Philippine presidential candidate bag the 2016 elections. Duterte has denied any such dealings.

CNN Philippines correspondent Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.