Experts criticize proposed social media regulation

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  • Social media experts are skeptical that the medium can be efficiently regulated
  • Tonyo Cruz says government officials must disclose how much they spend for digital and social media operations
  • Cruz says transparency will disincentivize officials from using too much public funds on social media
  • Carlo Ople suggests DepEd launch a cyber education campaign with IMMAP and social media sites
  • Ople says education campaign should cover critical thinking and online security

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — In light of increasingly toxic online discourse and the rise of fake users, government officials have toyed with the idea of social media regulation - but two social media experts are not impressed.

"Regulations that are being proposed appear to aim to limit the public's right of expression," social media strategist Tonyo Cruz told CNN Philippines. "And such should be preserved, otherwise social media will dry up as a medium, as an agora or marketplace for ideas."

Digital marketing specialist Carlo Ople also told CNN Philippines that it is difficult to regulate social media without blocking the website entirely.

"It is next to impossible to regulate social media," said Ople. "These companies operate outside the Philippines. They have their own regulations and they will not bow down to the Philippine government."

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez filed House Bill 5021, or the "Social Media Regulation Act of 2017," which seeks to crackdown on fake users by verifying user identities.

He suggested earlier this week that users' identites be verified by requiring them to present a valid ID upon registration to a social media site or through syncing accounts with a phone number.

"Bakit hindi... pag nagbukas ka (ng account), i-ascertain nila yung identity mo? Halimbawa, i-email mo yung page ng passport mo na ikaw talaga yun," Alvarez told CNN Philippines' The Source.

[Translation: Why don't they ascertain your identity when you open (an account)? For example, through e-mailing your passport page to see if it's really you.]

"Meron pa ngang ibang suggestion na dapat ito ay nakalink din sa sim card mo," he continued. "Nagpunta ako sa Japan... sa Singapore, bili ka ng sim card, kailangan ng identity mo - ipakita mo na ikaw talaga yung taong yun. Bakit dito sa atin, hindi natin ginagawa yun?"

[Translation: There were also some suggestions to link social media accounts to your sim card. When I went to Japan... to Singapore, you have to show your identity when buying a sim card - you need proof it's really you. Why don't we have that here?]

In January, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV also sought to open a probe on social media trolls, or users -  mostly anonymous - who sought to sow conflict online.

"Let's say the measure passes and the social media networks would agree, where would the people register? What agency? How will the government take care of this database? It creates a whole new problem," Cruz said.

He also pointed out that Alvarez's proposal does not cover millions of Filipinos living and working abroad.

But Cruz and Ople offered their own alternatives: transparency and cyber education.

Transparency of digital funds

Cruz maintains that the toxicity online can be attributed to the political agenda of officials both supportive of and against the administration. He believes that they must be held to account.

He said that in social media regulation, "We are blaming the public for a problem that the public actually suffers from, a problem that they [did not] cause."

Because of this, Cruz proposes that politicians be transparent with their funds for digital marketing.

"We'd like them to disclose what amount they set aside for social media and digital," said Cruz. "That's their legal obligation under campaign finance reform... we would bring to light how expensive the social media operations of these politicians."

"We must turn the tables on the politicians. This is their project. Social media only reflects the kind of politics that we have," he added.

Cruz also noted that this transparency would shift the conversation and provide a "big disincentive for doing evil things online."

"They would have to play with private money. That would lessen the probability that they would have to use public funds for trolling," said Cruz.

He added that it would "put some order" in the digital marketing agencies that have arrangements with politicians.

"It would legalize them. We could only guess what [are] the project titles and descriptions for the services politicians avail for digital marketing," said Cruz. "The agencies have to conduct legal business."

Cyber education campaign

Meanwhile, Ople suggested that the Department of Education work with these social media sites and the Internet and Mobile Marketing Association of the PH (IMMAP) to mount a cyber education campaign.

"(The) solution is cyber education via DepEd and a campaign educating netizens fast on proper usage of social media," said Ople.

"It should educate users how to have full control over their Facebook feed - educate them on filters, security features, and reinforce the fact that Facebook is a political mindshaping battleground and you can be a casualty. It should educate users to practice critical thinking."

"What we can do is work with [social media sites] to get them to educate their users," said Ople. "They key is collaboration and education, not regulation."