Comelec spokesman touts reforms in social media and the electoral process

Published January 20, 2021, 6:22 PM

by Mario Casayuran

A Commission on Elections (Comelec) official on Wednesday said Philippine democracy is under siege, ‘’ironically, from the very technology that is supposed to turbocharge the democratization of society.’’         

James Jimenez, Comelec spokesman, told Senator Imee R. Marcos, chairwoman of the Senate electoral reforms committee, that beginning with the national and local elections, 2016, social media has increasingly been used to unduly influence the turnout.        

 ‘’Second, obfuscate the information environment around elections. And third, basically erode public trust in the electoral system political leadership and government institutions,’’ he said.         

Jimenez said Comelec believes that the lady senator’s public hearings on election-related resolutions are timely and relevant, particularly in view of the potential coordinated inauthentic social media behavior to influence the upcoming 2022, national and local elections.          

He emphasized that Comelec’s response threat of cyber-enabled interference entails three broad intervention categories: First, deterrence, second is mitigation. And the third is education.         

For deterrence,  Jimenez pointed out, the Comelec caused attention to the foreign intervention clause of the Omnibus Election Code. Section 81 of Batas Pambansa 881 makes it unlawful for any foreigner whether judicial or natural person to aid any candidate or political party, directly or indirectly, or take part in, or influence in any manner in any election, or to contribute, or make any expenditure in connection with any election campaign, or partisan political activity.          

‘’While it can be argued that this provision is broad enough to encompass cyber-enabled interference in the election process, there is some question whether it can be applied to the use of social media. It is recommended, therefore, the Congress reassess BP 881 interference clause to take into consideration new developments in communications technology,’’ Jimenez said.          

As for the social media platforms, while Facebook has in the past proven itself willing to work with the public and the Comelec, the Commission feels that much more can be done in the matter of enforcing the rules that require political advertisements disclose ownership of the ads, he added.         

Jimenez said the Commission  believes that social media platforms could be more responsive to take down requests for violations of campaign rules and regulations.         

‘’In the matter of mitigation, interagency election integrity task forces might be a good idea, because the Comelec lacks the resources and expertise to actively defend against coordinated inauthentic behavior. It is recommended that some sort of inter-agency election integrity Task Force be established to assist and perhaps advice the Comelec in dealing with cyber-related interference in the electoral process,’’ he stressed.         

‘’As for the social media platforms, they have their own initiative recently.   They have undertaken measures to combat the spread of disinformation by convening a technical working group, composed of the Comelec and representatives of the social media platforms. It might be possible to increase the efficacy of those anti-misinformation measures, as well as to discuss possible passage of legislation,’’ he said.        

 These proposed legislations should require political advertisers to adhere to a set of integrity standards; Require the creation of a publicly accessible archive of all advertising on the platform and: Require social media platforms to make public advertisement targeted algorithms to make those public.                 

‘’And finally, in the matter of education. Information campaigns targeting the public, no response would be complete if you did not include the program to educate the public to become more discerning consumers of information,’’ Jimenez said.         

‘’To this end, it is recommended that the Department of Information Communications Technology undertake a massive and comprehensive education campaign intended to improve the capabilities of the public to detect, reject and report disinformation,’’ he added.          

Jimenez pointed out that this is not a specific nor an exclusive problem of the Comelec.         

‘’Coordinate the responses of government agencies to identify disinformation campaigns, and finally to raise awareness about this information, and how to fight it, in general, respectfully submitted for permission and elections,’’ he added.