Leni Robredo: Research found no internet neutrality in PH

Leni Robredo: Research found no internet neutrality in PH

MANILA, Philippines — Former vice president Leni Robredo has echoed research findings that the Internet is not neutral in the Philippines and ISPs don’t handle information equally, contributing to the spread of fake news and propaganda.

Robredo on Tuesday, at the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung’s Solutions Conference on Fighting Fake News, Misinformation, and Disinformation, explained that studies from sociology professors Jonathan Ong from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Nicole Curato from the University of Canberra indicated that net neutrality does not exist in the Philippines.

The reason is that ISPs and telecoms give incentives (such as free data packages) that foster the spread of false information while restricting users’ ability to obtain content from reputable news outlets.

“The research said there is no [inter]net neutrality in the Philippines, because telcos in our country package games, messaging platforms, and most importantly, social media platforms into their plans and data promos. We see it regularly, right?  Facebook is on free data — that’s why Bayanihan E-Konsulta is on Facebook, so that no additional data is needed to access it,” she said in her keynote address.

Robredo was referring to the Bayanihan E-Konsulta, a telemedicine program initiated by the Office of the Vice President (OVP) during her term amid the increasing number of hospitalizations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You don’t need data to be able to access it.  But what is the downside about it? People, because content in free data is limited, they can only have that source of information.  They cannot access other sources, maybe more legitimate sources of information because that is not available on free data,” she noted.

Ultimately, Robredo warned that such offerings of free data dwarf the influence and range of mainstream media outlets, which have better fact-checking and editing processes than other sources of information — leading to virality and not truthfulness as main criteria for popular content.

“This process, ultimately, crowds out legitimate media from the communications space.  You have noticed it, right?  The influence of legitimate media now, it is not like what it was before.  It grants influencers and trolls — whose loyalties lie with the highest bidder — the same, if not more, latency than traditional sources of information,” she said.

“Volume becomes the name of the game, rather than truth or reliability.  Isn’t it that now, virality becomes more important than the truth, which should not be the case at all,” she added.

Robredo noted that to solve misinformation and disinformation, the Philippines must look into key legislation passed in the European Union — the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act.

Both laws prevent the prevalence of misleading information.

“Under the Digital Services Act, internet service providers and digital platforms are responsible for transparency in algorithms; removal of illegal products, services, and other content after being reported; creating a reporting mechanism for users to flag illegal contents; and a ban on targeted advertising for minors and sensitive data,” she said.

“Its partner law, the Digital Markets Act, concentrates on the digital economy to protect consumers and sellers from abuses by large service providers. Through this, users’ personal data cannot be used for targeted advertising without consent, among others,” she added.

Robredo is back in the Philippines for a series of engagements, including the said forum.  Earlier, she also noted that the country is in the spotlight because of its disinformation woes, as other nations are curious as to how the issue can be solved.

READ: Robredo: World watching PH, intrigued by misinformation nightmare 

She also said that misinformation and disinformation persist in the country because it is rooted in the gross inequality among Filipinos and the people’s frustration with the democratic system’s failed promises.

READ: Leni Robredo says inequality, broken promises fuel disinformation