House to seek advice from bloggers as it eyes crackdown on fake news, accounts

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 26) -- Lawmakers may invite "bloggers" to participate in the next hearings on proposed bills against fake news, a House panel said Wednesday.

House Committee on Public Information Chairman Ron Salo said they will get inputs from the guests, although he did not mention who they are eyeing to invite.

"Hinati lang natin yung inimbita natin. 'Yung inimbita natin 'yung mga nasa mainstream media pero sa susunod iimbitahin natin sila 'yung mga kilala na mga bloggers," said the Kabayan Party-list Representative.

[Translation: We divided the people who we will invite. We invited first those from the mainstream media and next we will invite the known bloggers.]

He added that they will ask the Presidential Communications Operations Office to come to the hearing, which may be scheduled after the House's Lenten break.

"[We're] trying to strike a balance between people's right to freedom of expression and freedom of speech as well as the need of the public to be protected from people who maliciously disseminate misinformation or disinformation," added Salo.

Earlier this month, the police warned against the spread of fake news especially on social media amid the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease. Authorities cited Republic Act No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 wherein violations could land you up to 12 years in jail.

The police's anti-cybercrime group said it had already begun validating alleged fake news posts online. Meanwhile, the National Bureau of Investigation is also set to probe supposed fake news on the virus.

The committee said it will also form a technical working group to study a proposal to ban fake social media accounts.

In July last year, Tarlac 2nd District Rep. Victor Yap filed House Bill 361 seeking to sanction netizens who open accounts under different names or who use someone else's identity. Users will be subjected to "identity verification" and those who fail will have their applications for the platform denied or their accounts shut down.

On top of that, the bill also wants fake users imprisoned for at least six to 12 years and to pay a fine of P30,000 to P50,000. This covers Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linked-in and Pinterest apps and even e-mails.

Yap, who was also present in the hearing, said he proposed the measure so netizens can be held accountable for their posts and comments.

"Doon palang sa original na naglalabas ng paninira o pang ano, dapat sana itong mga nagtatago sa mga alias, kailangan malinaw diba. Pwede ka mag-alyas, pero sino ka?," said Yap.

[Translation: It must be clear who are the people hiding behind aliases whose posts show negative comments against someone. You can use an alias but who are you?]

In November 2019, Facebook shut down 5.4 billion fake accounts as it prepares for the US 2020 elections. In 2018, the social media networking giant also took down 3.3 billion of these fraudulent users. 

CNN Philippines' Correspondent Paolo Barcelon contributed to this report.