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Digital Rights and Safety for Filipino Voters: 9 Online Safety Tips to Protect Yourself During the Philippine Elections

Read in Filipino (Tagalog), Ilokano, Waray, and Hiligaynon 

More than in past elections, online spaces have become a battleground for votes. Purveyors of disinformation have unleashed a wave of fake news to sway public opinion. Ordinary citizens expressing critical opinions risk harassment and intimidation. Journalists and activists reporting or conducting advocacy work for the upcoming polls have weathered cyberattacks and other digital dangers.

Are you, your organisation, and the people you care about safe from such threats? What should you do to mitigate and respond to such risks?

To help you and your community safely exercise your rights online, we compiled some tips to help you increase your digital security now, on election day, and beyond.

Be aware of election-related digital rights issues.

As you continue engaging online (and offline) about the upcoming elections, it is important to keep up to date about cyberattacks, targeted harassment, and other digital rights threats so you can enhance your digital safety measures.

To learn more about current or emerging digital threats, follow reputable news organisations and civil society groups like the Foundation for Media Alternatives and Out of The Box.

Academic studies are also a good way to learn about digital rights issues that impact the elections. The role of fake news, paid political trolling, influencer marketing, and media manipulation techniques in the Philippines have been well documented. To know more about these, a good place to start is this 2019 study on tracking digital disinformation.

Do you know what to do if you are threatened or questioned about your advocacy activities? Get acquainted with your rights online and offline so you can assert yourself and correct wrong notions.

As a starting point, read the Bill of Rights section in the 1987 Philippine Constitution. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and Free Legal Assistance Group also published a “Know Your Rights” series, available in English and Filipino. You can use the resource as a quick reference on your rights and what you can do to protect yourself.

And as for your rights online, the National Privacy Commission made this page detailing Filipinos’ entitlements and protections under the Data Privacy Act of 2012. If you are not familiar with the term “digital rights” yet, check out this blog.

Practice Digital Safety and Hygiene

Practicing digital hygiene will increase your protection against potential cyber attacks and other digital threats. EngageMedia published a digital hygiene resource that you can use to improve your digital safety. While this will not prevent bad actors from targeting you, it will decrease your vulnerability and minimise the potential harm.

Digital hygiene is not a quick fix – it will take some work to learn the principles and change your habits. But you can start this important work now with some basics:

  • Use strong passwords and enable two-factor authentication on your devices and accounts;
  • Use browser extensions and other software (like Virtual Private Networks and Privacy Badger) to minimise trackers monitoring your online activity; and
  • Use more secure options for messaging and other online activities (for example, consider using Signal instead of social media messaging apps).

Now that you have improved your personal digital hygiene, share these practices with your family, friends, and communities. By addressing potential vulnerabilities and weak links within your circle, you are protecting yourself and others from digital attacks.

If you want to host a digital safety session for your organisation or community, contact EngageMedia to know how to host these sessions or to request resource speakers.

And in the unfortunate event that you or somebody in your community is experiencing digital attacks, check out the Digital First Aid Kit as a self-help guide to troubleshoot digital emergencies. You can also reach out to EngageMedia to be connected to incident response support groups.

Take Action

Online disinformation has been a key digital rights issue for the past two elections, and this election is no different – in fact, it has intensified as more people consume election-related information online.

Building up media and information literacy is crucial to spot fake news and digital manipulation. Out of The Box published a resource for academics and advocates with lesson plans and worksheets for teaching and discussing digital citizenship and media literacy.

Put these principles into practice by being selective about the news sources and updates you consume and share online, and share these reminders with others, especially those vulnerable to online disinformation.

Reputable news organisations release fact-check stories online – share these stories with your networks so more people are aware. Check out VERA Files Fact-check, Rappler Fact-check, and Philippine Fact-check Incubator for these kinds of articles.

When you see disinformation online, you can also report it yourself. The World Health Organization released an online dashboard explaining how to report COVID-19 disinformation online. You can follow the same procedures to report election-related online disinformation. Try it yourself on TotooBa.Info, a disinformation reporting platform linked with various fact-checking initiatives.

During election day, make sure to go out there and vote! Check the Commission on Elections website for updates and advisories leading up to the elections, including the voter precinct finder.

Before heading out to vote, familiarise yourself with what you can and cannot do in the voting precinct. Taking photos and videos of your ballot while inside the voting precinct is not allowed. To know more do’s and don’ts, check out these old election guides from CNN Philippines and Rappler. While we want to be active participants and guardians of democracy during election day, we should also know and follow the rules set by the Commission on Elections.

After voting, continue following election watchdog groups and stay vigilant when it comes to election-related concerns in your area. Use social media responsibly to bring attention to these issues so they can be addressed by the authorities and checked by civil society advocates.

Digital attacks on advocates may continue even after the May 9 elections. Now that you have some basic understanding and experience about digital rights and safety, continue learning digital safety strategies by reading additional resources, such as this one from Front Line Defenders.

You may also watch documentaries that tackle digital rights, such as The Great Hack, Social Dilemma, and Coded Bias. For short films on various digital rights issues in the Asia-Pacific, check out Tech Tales.

EngageMedia publishes regular content about digital rights and safety in the Asia-Pacific, so subscribe to our newsletter to stay updated about new articles, activities, and resources.

Now that you have more awareness about digital rights concerns and digital security strategies, you need allies and champions within your communities.

Start with your friends and peers – they’re more likely to share similar concerns on digital rights and safety, and they’re likely the easiest to convert from passive supporters to empowered advocates.

Work with others to raise awareness about digital rights, educate others about digital safety, and hold those who violate digital rights accountable.

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