Police presence in online platforms: Fighting fake news, preventing scams

Published August 13, 2021, 5:04 PM

by Aaron Recuenco 

  • The PNP’s two units – the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and the Anti-Cybercrime Group work together to protect netizens
  • Project E-Sumbong created online platforms, specifically in social media, where netizens can file complaints and ask for police assistance to uncover cyber criminals
  • Project E-Access informs netizens of online accounts or mobile phone numbers which had been used in committing cybercrime, particularly financial fraud
  • The site also has an updated list of cybercriminals operating here and in other parts of the world.
  • From March 9, 2020 to Aug. 9, 2021, 52 persons have been charged for spreading fake news and unverified information related to COVID-19 on social media
Courtesy: PNP-PIO

Who has not heard of the words “fake news” and how it affects the lives of many people?

Only in the recent days, fake news became big news as thousands of people created mass gatherings around vaccination centers pushed by the loud rumors that the unvaccinated cannot claim the cash assistance from the government.

As fake news, especially those related to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), continues to flood social media, the Philippine National Police reviewed its intensified their presence in cyberspace, especially in social media.

The PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and the Anti-Cybercrime Group (ACG) are among the government agencies tasked to prevent fake news from proliferating online and endangering people’s health.

PNP chief Gen. Guillermo Lorenzo Eleazar, who  used to head the ACG, knew what the unit was up against, prompting him to launch at least two projects aimed at beefing up police presence online, particularly in social media.

The first is Project E-Sumbong which created online platforms, specifically in social media, where complaints can be filed, and police assistance to uncover cyber criminals could be sought.

The second is Project E-Access, launched on July 8, to strengthen the campaign against cybercrime by providing an informative and convenient platform for cybercrime prevention awareness which the public can easily access.

Project E-Access informs netizens of online accounts or mobile phone numbers which had been used in committing cybercrime, particularly financial fraud – information which can help people avoid falling victim to scams.

The site also records ACG’s operations against individuals and groups, creating an updated list cybercriminals operating here and in other parts of the world.

Both the CIDG and ACG are currently investigating the people responsible for spreading false information that the unvaccinated will not be allowed to go out and claim the “ayuda” (government cash assistance) after Metro Manila was placed under Enhanced Community Quarantine, from August 6 to 20.

The fake news resulted in thousands of people flocking to various vaccination sites in Metro Manila, particularly in the cities of Manila and Las Piñas.

From March 9, 2020 to Aug. 9, 2021, Eleazar said 52 persons have been charged for spreading fake news and unverified information related to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on social media.

The 52 people charged are respondents to a total of 87 criminal charges filed by the CIDG and the ACG.

The charges range from violating Unlawful Use of Means of Publication and Unlawful Utterances under Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code as amended, concerning Section 4(c)(4)  (Online Libel) and Section 6 of Republic Act 10175 or the Anti-Cybercrime Law.

If found guilty, Eleazar said the penalty is imprisonment of one to six months and a fine ranging from P40, 000 to P200,000.

“They could also be held liable for violating Presidential Decree No. 90, which makes rumor-mongering and spreading false information as unlawful as it can cause or tend to cause panic, divisive effects among the people, discredit of or distrust for the duly constituted authorities and undermine the stability of the government”  Eleazar said.

Overall, the PNP has filed 121 criminal complaints and charged 80 persons in court for various cybercrimes exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eleazar said that the PNP has intensified its monitoring of cybercrimes with most people compelled to log on the internet for school, office work and business due to the pandemic.

“Based on reports from the CIDG and the ACG, there has been an increase in incidents of persons spreading fake news and unverified information about the COVID-19 pandemic in social media so we are continuously intensifying our operations,” said Eleazar.

“We are appealing to the public to be discerning and wary of fake news. This is also a stern warning to all individuals or groups spreading false information on various social media platforms. We will go after you and will not hesitate to put you behind bars,” he added.

The PNP units’ activities also includes going after online sellers who are hoarding or profiteering from the sale of medical supplies.

Eleazar disclosed that 26 persons are the respondents of the 31 criminal charges the PNP filed in connection with profiteering, overpricing, hoarding and authorized selling of medical supplies.

Some of the respondents were arrested during the police operations conducted by ACG operatives in different areas of the country.

Among those seized in anti-profiteering and anti-hoarding operations were alcohol, face masks, thermometer and disinfectant.

Last week, Eleazar tasked the CIDG and the ACG to run after those who were reported to have been hoarding oxygen tanks after reports that some medical facilities in Cebu are facing shortage of oxygen tanks.

 
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