In the runup to the 2016 elections, the Philippine social media landscape was swamped with false and misleading information not just about the candidates but more alarmingly, about the Commission on Elections itself. Nobody knew it then, but the Philippines just went down in history as “patient zero” in the disinformation pandemic that would later sweep the world.

Since then, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has been on the crosshairs of false news narratives. The claims run the gamut of absurdity, from the voting system being vulnerable to hacking to Comelec tampering with the election results. The poll body repeatedly denied the allegations, but the false stories spread like wildfire on social media just the same.

The runaway spread of disinformation in the Philippines may be chiefly attributed to the inordinately high level of social media adoption in the country. A 2023 study by Meltwater revealed that 72% of Filipinos are on social media, making the Philippines one of the most connected countries in the world.

Another factor is the anemic regulation of social media  in the Philippines. Critics have loudly condemned Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for allowing their platforms to be used to disseminate false information and for not doing enough to take down harmful content.

The disinformation problem had taken a turn for the worse with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which created a climate of fear and uncertainty that left people more susceptible to false information.

Disinformation cripples the public’s ability to make informed decisions and can erode the very integrity of elections. It is therefore of paramount importance for election officials to take decisive and proactive steps to combat this new type of threat.

To equip election officials for a fake news-driven crisis, Smartmatic has released the second edition of its popular “Safeguarding Elections in the Age of Fake News” handbook. The handbook provides a practical, real-world, and actionable advice for election officials in preparing their organization ahead of a crisis, as well as a step-by-step guide for navigating a crisis should one start. You may download a copy of the handbook here or click on the image below

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How the Philippines became patient zero in the global disinformation pandemic