After Facebook formed a third-party fact-checking program with online news publication Rappler and fact-checking organization VERA Files, some supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to quit Facebook and move to Russian social networking website VKontakte, or simply, VK.
“We are committed to fighting the spread of false news and misinformation on multiple fronts by employing a variety of tools and tactics,” said Clair Deevy, Facebook’s director for community affairs for the Asia-Pacific region.
“The program aims to help combat false news from spreading on Facebook. Third-party fact checkers like VERA Files will review news stories on Facebook, check their facts and rate their accuracy,” VERA Files announced.
VERA Files is the “first Philippine fact-checking organization certified through the nonpartisan International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter.”
VERA Files said that people will be informed if a story they shared on Facebook is rated as false using the third-party fact-checking program. Facebook users will also be able to flag and report potential fake news stories. This is in line with Facebook’s “three-part framework to improve the quality and authenticity of stories in the News Feed.”
Prominent Duterte supporters such as singer and Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. officer Jimmy Bondoc expressed their disappointment with the new fact-checking program.
“I guarantee you, if this happens, I will personally commence a nationwide petition to delete Facebook. I also assure you that I will be supported strongly. I also ask commenters to kindly suggest ASAP a new socmed platform that we can migrate to,” Bondoc posted on his Facebook account.
Let’s all support Jimmy Bondoc please 👌🏼 pic.twitter.com/YTXlhWMDRk
— Tonyo Cruz (@tonyocruz) April 12, 2018
Another Duterte supporter, Atty. Paula Defensor Knack, who is also the sister of the late Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, posted this message on her Facebook account: “On Saturday, 14 April 2018, we shall announce to which social media platform we have transferred together with some DDS bloggers who are interested in letting the truth out. We will close our accounts on FB. We are already there, practicing our posts.”
However, some Duterte supporters such as PCOO Assistant Secretary Esther Margaux “Mocha” Uson, RJ Nieto (Thinking Pinoy) and Sass Rogando Sassot are hesitant to leave Facebook and move to VK.
“No. Why would you deactivate? That’s surrendering without a fight,” Mocha Uson commented.
The Presidential Communications Operations Office, through Undersecretary Lorraine Marie Badoy, praised Facebook’s third-party fact-checking program but expressed concern over the choice of fact-checkers.
“We would also like to register our protest at the choice of fact-checkers by Facebook and this will be on the agenda when we finally get to sit with them soon,” Badoy said.
What is VK?
VKontakte, which means “InContact,” is the largest social networking website in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. VK has over 400 million accounts and is the 9th most popular website in the world according to SimilarWeb.
VK was founded by billionaire Pavel Durov, who is also the founder of popular messaging app Telegram. Unlike Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Durov is no longer involved or connected with VK, although he still maintains a VK account.
When protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin broke out in 2011, Russian authorities asked Durov to shut down VK pages operated by activities. Durov refused and said that his decision was motivated by business rather than politics.
Three years later, Durov sold his remaining shares in VK to Ivan Tavrin, the CEO of mobile phone operator Megafon. The sale effectively handed control of VK to billionaire Alisher Usmanov, a close ally of Putin.
Russia’s Answer to Facebook
According to a study by Henrich Heine University of Germany, VK users consider it to be superior to Facebook. A survey conducted on people who used both VK and Facebook revealed that VK was considered to be easier to use, more fun, and more trustworthy overall.
There’s some truth to those claims. The VK news feed is clean and has hardly any advertisements. In fact, if you use VK in a language other than Russian, you might not see any advertisements at all. Even if you use VK in Russian, the ads are generally less intrusive and meddlesome compared to Facebook and other social networking sites.
VK also has a better search engine. VK allows you to narrow down your search according to sex, age, relationship status, company, location, school, and even year of birth! VK encourages its users to provide a wide range of information about themselves, and even allows them to state their “world views” as well as their views on smoking and alcohol. Now those are things that you might not want a Russian company to know, but it gives you an idea of the amount of data that VK collects from its users.
VK is the second most popular website in Russia behind Yandex (a popular Russian search engine). Facebook is a distant fourth behind social networking sites Odnoklassniki and Mail.ru.
Duterte Supporters on VK
I signed up for a Facebook account to check if Duterte supporters actually made good on their threat to move to VK.
None of the more popular Duterte supporters such as Mocha Uson and Sass Rogando Sasot opened personal accounts on VK. A post on VK claimed that Atty. Paula Defensor Knack had opened an account but closed it to open a new one.
There are already a few communities formed by Duterte supporters, such as “President Rody Duterte International,” “Duterte Kami Ang Media Mo,” “Paula Defensor Philippine Group,” and “Paula Defensor & Friends.”
Each pro-Duterte VK community only has around 500-1,000 members, which goes to show that there’s no mass exodus of Facebook users to VK yet. Judging by the constant sharing of Facebook posts on these communities, it seems that many of these new VK users haven’t totally abandoned their Facebook accounts.
Nevertheless, most posts on these communities garnered a fair amount of likes, comments and views. It would be interesting to see how much traction the campaign to move to VK will generate, and whether it will snowball to a mass migration of Duterte supporters to the Russian social networking site.