House working to unmask culprits behind Twitter account spreading fake news

THE leadership of the House of Representatives on Thursday said it is now working to unmask the identities behind a destructive Twitter account using the official seal of the institution as its profile photo to deliberately sow “fear, panic and confusion” at the height of government’s campaign against coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19).

House Secretary General Atty. Jose Luis G. Montales said the full force of the law would be meted on those who will be found spreading fake news reports.

“The House is closely coordinating with authorities to identify the perpetrators behind this malicious Twitter account. We shall prosecute the perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law,” said Montales.

Montales was referring to a Twitter account using the handle @house_files, which “has been posting false information on the COVID-19 crisis.”

“[The account has been] directly messaging users to deliberately cause panic, fear, and confusion,” said Montales.

“These acts clearly violate Republic Act No. 11469, or the Bayanihan to Heal As One Act of 2020 and Republic Act No. 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012,” said Montales.

Under Section 6 of the “Bayanihan to Heal as One Act of 2020" or Republic Act (RA) 11469, it imposes two months imprisonment or a maximum P1 million fine or both to those who will be found guilty of sharing fake news and unverified reports to social media and similar platforms that may cause fear, chaos, panic, and anarchy.

This is on top of the penalties under RA No. 10175, or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

Montales clarified that the official Twitter account of the House of Representatives is HouseofRepsPH.

“The Philippine government is ensuring that the public shall receive only accurate and relevant information on its efforts against COVID-19. Let us be vigilant and consider information only from verified and authentic sources,” Montales added.

Montales also said that the Twitter handle of the malicious account has since been changed to @congresstita.

Under RA  11469, it said that “Purveyors of fake news will] be punished with imprisonment of two months or a fine of not less than P10,000 but not more than P1 million or both such imprisonment and fine at the discretion of the court,” according to House Deputy Majority Leader and Bagong Henersyon party-list Rep. Bernadette Herrera.

Herrera, who introduced the penal provision of the law, said "individuals or groups creating, perpetuating, or spreading false information regarding the COVID-19 crisis on social media and other platforms, such information having no valid or beneficial effect on the population, and are clearly geared to promote chaos, panic, anarchy, fear, or confusion; and those participating in cyber incidents that make use or take advantage of the current crisis situation to prey on the public through scams, phishing, fraudulent emails, or other similar acts.”