Balancing act needed to regulate social media content—House lawmakers

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Regulating social media content demands a delicate balance between oversight and the preservation of freedom of expression.

This was the consensus reached among lawmakers when asked to comment on the proposal for Congress to establish a regulatory body tasked with overseeing and evaluating social media content.

“I think it is a very delicate balancing act of ensuring regulation and the freedom of expression and the freedom of information,” House Deputy Majority Leader and Tingog Partylist Rep. Jude Acidre told a press conference.

Rather than direct regulation, Acidre said the focus should be on ensuring that safeguards are in place.

He suggested implementing measures such as age restrictions for social media account holders to mitigate potential risks associated with online interactions.

Acidre also stressed the importance of verification processes to combat cybercrimes and cyber libel.

“In most cases, cybercrime, cyber libel or any of these, they thrive because of anonymity, kasi hindi sila kilala,” he pointed out, advocating for measures to hold perpetrators accountable under existing laws.

“Kailangan din natin papanagutin, there are already existing laws in relation to cyber libel. I think it’s good to enforce the law especially in instances when the pronouncements made are already bordering on what the law prohibits,” he added.

Acidre said there is also a need for government to invest in digital citizenship by informing users and promoting responsible usage.

“Social media is only as strong, is only as discerning as the users, na they are trained, they are capable of discerning whether totoo nga ‘yun nandiyan sa social media or hindi,” Acidre said.

Acidre affirmed that while freedom of expression is a fundamental right, it is not absolute.

“Kasi sa totoo lang, the fact that some people can speak freely or express their opinions freely on social media is an indicator that there is freedom of expression in the country,” Acidre said. “But that freedom is not absolute, and we have enough laws.”

Davao Oriental 2nd District Rep. Cheeno Miguel Almario also weighed in on the potential need for regulation while cautioning against infringing on freedom of information and speech.

“This is not a new request,” Almario said. “Many governments and entities worldwide have attempted to regulate social media, but it raises the question: How far are you willing to regulate freedom of information and freedom of speech?”

Acknowledging the prevalence of fake news, especially the spread of deep fakes, Almario emphasized the importance of verifying information authenticity.

He referenced the SIM Card Registration Act as a potential model for addressing this issue, suggesting that similar measures could be implemented to identify individuals disseminating information on social media.

“Maybe one of the good ways to move forward is to have verified accounts on social media,” Almario suggested.

“This may require cooperation from various national agencies such as the DICT (Department of Information and Communications Technology), NBI (National Bureau of Investigation), cyber security agencies, and CICC (Cyberbrime Investigation and Coordinating Center) to authenticate social media users,” he added.

However, Almario recognized the complexity of the issue, noting the need to balance regulation with constitutional rights.

“We cannot discount the freedom of information that is a constitutional right of any Filipino person,” he cautioned.

He assured the public that any potential regulatory measures would be thoroughly researched and subject to hearings in the House of Representatives.

Lanao del Norte 2nd District Rep. Mohamad Khalid Dimaporo, meanwhile, called for urgent and serious consideration of the regulation of social media content in Congress, emphasizing the need to balance free speech with public safety.

“That’s a topic that I hope will be treated urgently and seriously in this Congress, at least have the discussion about it,” Dimaporo said. “On my part, I would like to see how Congress would delineate the line between free speech and public safety.”

Dimaporo highlighted the potential dangers of misinformation and fake news, particularly in inciting fear among the public.

“Free speech or disinformation or fake news can be bad for the general public if it causes fear,” he stated, citing a recent experience in Lanao del Norte.

He underscored the importance of identifying the sources of such misinformation, warning of the potential for malicious intent to destabilize the government.

Dimaporo also expressed concern over the weaponization of social media, stressing its capacity to sow fear among the public.

Recently, the Kapisanan ng Social Media Broadcasters ng Pilipinas Inc. (KSMBPI) urged Congress to draft legislation establishing a regulatory body to oversee and evaluate social media content.

The KSMBPI revealed that they have already penned a letter to Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, urging his office to draft an interim executive order for the creation of a “national social media regulatory board” until formal legislation is enacted.

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