Philippines passes law to tackle anonymous social media abuse

The Bill is a rare push in a country notorious for online trolling, disinformation and use of anonymous social media accounts. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA (REUTERS) - Philippines lawmakers have approved legislation requiring social media users to register their legal identities and phone numbers when creating new accounts, a senator said on Thursday (Feb 3), in an ambitious move to thwart online abuse and misinformation.

The Bill is a rare push by a legislature to compel users to disclose details that would allow them to be traced, in a country notorious for online trolling, disinformation and use of anonymous social media accounts.

"It is our little contribution to fight the anonymity that provides the environment for trolls and other malicious attacks to thrive in the age of social media," said Senator Franklin Drilon, one of the authors of the Bill, which was passed by the lower house and senate but still requires presidential approval.

"This new provision will prevent anyone from making anonymous accounts online so they could attack anyone endlessly and viciously."

It was not immediately clear from the Bill how social media companies would know if a name or number used to register an account was false. The law prescribes punishments of jail or large fines, or both, for providing false information.

Twitter and Facebook have come under pressure in the Philippines to combat fake news and inauthentic accounts, particularly around politics.

Facebook declined to comment on the Philippine law and Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It comes ahead of a general election in May that will choose a president, lawmakers and thousands of political posts, with social media set to be a key campaign battleground.

A well-organised social media campaign was credited with catapulting Mr Rodrigo Duterte to the presidency in 2016, and his critics say his supporters have ensured he remained powerful through use of trolls, influencers and misinformation to discredit and threaten opponents.

The president's office has rejected that and says it does not condone abuse of social media.

The Philippines has one of Asia's highest number of smartphone users, at 79 million of its 110 million population, and Filipinos top global rankings of most time spent on social media and the Internet each day, according to some studies.

The bill, called the "Subscriber Identity Module (Sim) Card Registration Act" also requires owners of all cellphone Sims to be registered with operators.

The country's three telecoms firms welcomed the Bill, saying it will help prevent crimes such as text scams and fraud.

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