This blog post is based on key highlights from the South and Southeast Asia Digital Rights School, held last April 2022 under the Greater Internet Freedom program. Read the rest of the posts here.
The Philippines has improved on the digital hygiene front, but the country is still struggling in enhancing cybersecurity and addressing cybercrime, as seen in the rise of data breach cases, online gender-based violence, and state-sponsored disinformation.
The following issues and concerns emerged as the key highlights during the South and Southeast Asia Digital Rights School and Gender and Digital Rights Fellowship hosted by EngageMedia under the Greater Internet Freedom project.
Online Freedom of Expression: Red tagging and its consequences. The Philippines is experiencing shrinking civic spaces in various forums including the digital world, with public trust in the media drastically dwindling. Filipinos are more wary of expressing their thoughts online due to the threat of restricted or blocked access to social media platforms for criticising the government. A more severe form of digital authoritarianism is the practice of red-tagging, where individuals or groups are accused of association with communist movements, often using social media. This has led to arrests and targeted attacks against those accused of ties to communist groups.
Online Privacy: An uptick in cybercrimes. User data is at risk due to the lack of security and privacy measures for public service websites. With a limited number of cybersecurity experts available to develop security measures for the country’s digital infrastructures, government and business sites are left vulnerable to cyberattacks. The latest case of a data breach involving the Philippines’ various government agencies – including the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation – involved the leak of a staggering 817.54 GB worth of personal data.
Digital Inclusion and Connectivity: Existing gaps in access. 65% of the total population is still not connected to the internet. Furthermore, the digital gender divide is stark, with only 26% of women using the internet for educational purposes, and less than 20% for employment and business opportunities. Connectivity on smaller remote islands across the country is also limited as the Philippines’ archipelagic nature poses geographical challenges.
Online Gender-Based Violence (OGBV): Online platforms used as a tool for sexual assault. OGBV is growing more prevalent in the Philippines in the wake of COVID-19. In the second half of 2022, 31 cases of OGBV using social media and encrypted messaging apps were documented, mostly affecting minors and young women, with Meta apps being the leading platform for abuse. The Philippines’ biggest telecommunications company PLDT had created a task force to block subscribers from accessing content related to child sexual abuse online. The fast-growing, borderless crime has unfortunately found itself thriving in the Philippines due to cheap internet access and an accessible international money transfer infrastructure.
Online Disinformation and Hate Speech: State-sponsored disinformation thrives. The 2022 elections proved how massive, systematic, and politically motivated the Philippines’ disinformation landscape is. As disinformation and inciting content are systematically distributed, it has become increasingly difficult to fact-check the stories – even more so when broadcasted live, where moderators and fact-checkers have very little control. Existing legal infrastructure to prevent the spread of disinformation is inadequate when disinformation is state-sponsored, and social media corporations are slow in acting upon complaints for violations of community guidelines.
Digital Hygiene in the Philippines: The Philippines earned an above-average rating regarding comprehension of cybersecurity literacy, and digital hygiene norms are becoming more common for Filipino internet users. Many programs are starting to cover safe online practices, specifically relating to online financial transactions. The government has also issued digital safety bulletins in response to the rise in cyberattacks and cybercrimes since the start of the pandemic. Efforts to combat digital fraud by introducing safety and security measures are currently paying off; as of 2022, cases have dropped by 18% compared to previous years.