Don’t Let Fake News Bill Squash Free Speech

Target: Josephine Lacson-Noel, Member of the Philippine House of Representatives

Goal: Pass a defining law to combat fake news in the Philippines.

Last year, two prominent representatives of the Philippines House of Representatives filed a bill to combat the fake news problem. House Bill No. 2971, filed by Josephine Lacson-Noel and Florencio Gabriel-Noel, proposes key amendments to the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. The bill was recently put up for discussion in the House of Representatives. However, concerned media personalities have raised alarm over the bill, stating that it fails to define disinformation adequately. In the absence of proper guidelines, the bill could be misutilized to stifle public opinion and curb free speech.

The Cybercrime Investigation and Coordinating Center (CICC) is an affiliated agency to the Department of Information and Communication Technology. Richard Martin de Leon of CICC stated that the bill lacks guidelines on the exact definition of fake news. Jose Vener Ibarra of the GMA Network said that the bill could have a “chilling effect,” as it might be utilized as a tool to silence the free discussion of public interest issues. Ibarra compared the misinformation problem to a cancerous cell and said that it would be wrong to poison the whole body to get rid of the disease. The Department of Justice has confirmed that it won’t support the bill in the absence of clear provisions. Angela Marie De Gracia-Cruz from the DOJ Office of Cybercrime emphasized that the law already has an existing mechanism to counter fake news.

The Supreme Court has ruled parts of the Cybercrime Prevention Act as unconstitutional since it allows for harsher penalties for cyber libel. Philippines is known as a hotbed of disinformation, with a rampant history of using it as a political campaign tool on social media. Three similar bills had been filed in the 18th Congress, but none of them saw the light of day.

According to the Digital 2022 report by Hootsuite and We Are Social, an average person in the Philippines spends 10 hours and 27 minutes every day on the internet. Katie Harbath, former Facebook Public Policy director, called Philippines the ‘Patient Zero’ of the disinformation pandemic. Add your signature to the petition below to demand a revised bill to combat disinformation.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Representative Lacson-Noel,

The tabled House Bill No. 2971 proposes harsh punishments for spreading fake news without clearly defining its criteria. Several media personalities have raised concerns that the bill could be misused as a draconian tool to curb dissent and free speech. Observers note that the bill fails to define what the ‘truth’ is and how to separate it from disinformation.

In the absence of well-defined parameters, the bill might be deviating from the honesty and moral judgment necessary to combat a web of lies. Disinformation is a major problem in the Philippines, where an average person daily spends more than 10 hours on the internet.

We ask you, Representative Lacson-Noel, to revise the bill and include clear guidelines for identifying disinformation.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Marco Verch


One Comment

  1. People have the right to publish what they want, and if someone isn’t smart enough to sort it, that’s their problem. It’s not the gov business to tell people what to say, or think.

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