Rappler shows how US online technology can manipulate PH public opinion

  • Reading time:8 mins read

SEVERAL people — including those based in North America who rely on the Internet for assessing what’s really happening in the country — have asked the same question: “Why is it that when I google a particular topic, I often get Rappler articles high on its results list, and when I read the articles, they are mostly either short pieces without much information, or biased against the government?”

Try it yourself; google “Duterte war vs drugs.” After the Wikipedia entry there, the entry “Duterte war on drug news and updates” in Rappler’s website is high up in the google results. This leads not just to one article but to Rappler’s list (with the links to the articles themselves) of its articles on this topic, all containing the news site’s line that Duterte’s war on drugs has resulted in “thousands of innocent lives” lost.

No wonder US media, and even those in the West, believe the portrayal by Rappler head Maria Ressa and her Yellow allies that we are in the darkest of ages, with our streets littered with bodies killed by Duterte’s death squads. Why wouldn’t they, lazy journalists that many of them are, when they just rely on Rappler’s reportage, which is listed high in Google searches?

Google “Bongbong Marcos” and high up in the results list is the similar “Bongbong marcos news and updates” containing a list of Rappler articles on Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Rappler hates me as I have exposed its lies, its fraudulent claim that it is being suppressed by government, and that it is being funded by US entities, patently in violation of our Constitution.

Google “Rigoberto Tiglao,” and No. 1 in the search results is not my own website, rigobertotiglao.com but Rappler’s “Rigoberto Tiglao news and updates,” which contains a list of the news site’s ad hominem arguments against me, its sorry attempts at debunking my reports, like one astonishingly claiming that “foreign funding of media isn’t a problem.” (If it isn’t, why did the Constitution expressly prohibit it?)

What’s going on?

You see, crucial in getting information in the internet is the search engine, the biggest of which is now Google, followed by Bing, Yahoo, ask.com and the new one, duckduckgo. These search engines “crawl” the millions of websites to give you what is purportedly the most relevant and most useful websites (and their postings) on the topic you are researching on.

How Rappler manipulates Google so you’ll read what it wants you to read

Google and other search engines purportedly each have what is called an algorithm — a process or set of rules to be followed — with as many as 200 factors to be considered to generate their search results.

One factor obviously is the number of people reading a particular internet post. For instance, my recent column, “PhD thesis details Ninoy Aquino’s collaboration with Communist Party/NPA” was ranked No. 1 if you google “communists Aquino” since it was most probably read by more than 100,000 people, given its over 40,000 likes.

But the number of viewers is not the only factor. In the case of my column, the fact that the term “communist” and “Aquino” were used in the column’s title boosted it in rankings for relevancy. If I had instead titled my piece as “Opposition leader aided insurgents,” its ranking would have been most probably lower. But these two factors are just among the purportedly 200 factors in Google’s algorithm which, together with each factor’s weighting, is kept secret, and continuously updated in its hope to prevent manipulation of its rankings — which is crucial since advertisers use the rankings to choose sites to advertise in.

One important factor that gives Rappler one huge advantage is the support huge US websites have been giving it, thanks to its two foreign funders, Omidyar Network and North Base Media — two entities that have wide networks in the US internet world.

This is because Google in its rankings put a lot of weight on websites that older and big sites have established links to. Techies call these “juice links.” For instance, New York Times having linked to Rappler in its many reports on its head Ressa’s supposed plight (that she is being suppressed by government), gives it a big boost in Google rankings. Two of its board members, Manny Ayala and Carlo Almendral, are veterans in the US internet business and are very knowledgeable in search engine optimization, and are on top of Rappler’s efforts to rank high in search results. (Two board members, other than Ressa, are Yellow stalwarts Fulgencio Factoran, Cory Aquino’s environment secretary, and Solita Monsod, her economic planning chief.)

The rapid rise of Rappler in the digital world cannot be explained by the quality of its journalism, since its articles are mostly sketchy, amateurish reports written mainly by straight-out-of-college reporters. Neither has it established a reputation for investigative journalism, except for its flawed reportage on Duterte’s anti-drug war, nor for high-quality opinion pieces.

Rather, it is the fact that its US funders, the neoliberal network in the US, have deliberately linked big US websites to Rappler, giving it a lot of juice links, that has boosted its articles’ rankings in the search engines.

In short, Rappler is using US internet technology to get you to read its biased articles as your main source of information about the country.

Furthermore, that Google’s algorithms can’t be easily “cracked” or manipulated, and that it revises these continuously in order to maintain its reputation has in fact created an entire industry of firms providing “search engine optimization” (SEO) services. That is, it advises websites how to tweak their posts so that these appear high in search engines. Rappler very early on, because of the insistence of its US partners, had paid for expensive SEO services.

Amazingly, the writers of our 1987 Constitution had the foresight to retain the ban on foreigners in media. They couldn’t have imagined how foreigners could mold public opinion in our country in this globalized world through the internet.

Netizens and researchers who know Rappler’s anti-government bias and lies, would just skip their entries in google searches. But what about the rest of netizens? Their views would be molded by Rappler. Perhaps Ressa inadvertently disclosed Rappler’s strategy when she boasted two years ago, “It’s time to take back the internet.”

It is the fact that Google and US search engines can determine what people read in the internet — the main source of news and information for many countries — that convinced China to ban most of these within its territory, with Google closing as early as 2010. The biggest search engine there is the local Baidu.

The search engine Bing though, after being blocked for a day in January, continues to operate in China. I can understand why. For some reason, in the Philippine case, Bing doesn’t put Rappler high in its search results.

We should follow China’s precedent, or at least enforce the Constitution and close down Rappler.

And don’t use Google. Change your browser’s setting to make Microsoft-owned Bing or Yahoo as your default search engine.




Email: tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com
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