In a time with a heightened political climate in the Philippines, fake news and misleading social media contents dominate the political conversation. The country’s problem in fake news and alternative facts does not go far from what other countries experience in this age of social media.
With the rise of fake and misleading news in social media platforms prompted many tech companies to do their part to regulate and remove the fallacious content of their websites and apps. Just like today, when Facebook announced that it had removed more than 200 pages, groups, and accounts that engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behavior” on its platform as well as on its subsidiary company, Instagram. Facebook said they removed the said accounts because they are “misleading others about who they were and what they were doing.”
Fake news has become commonplace in Philippine’s political environment. The rise of the strongman Pres. Rodrigo Duterte in the 2016 presidential elections was highly credited to social media groups that were meant to mislead voters of facts, political experts say. According to local sources, the marketing team behind Pres. Duterte’s campaign has employed “trolls,” locally known as “ka-DDS” and colloquially called “Dutertards,” who impersonate Filipinos citizens in an attempt to sway public opinions towards voting the then-Davao City Mayor. Three years following his election to office, the fake news, and false narratives didn’t stop according to Facebook.
In a blog post dated March 28, Nathanial Gleicher, Facebook’s Head of Cybersecurity Policy has removed 200 Facebook pages, groups, and accounts linked to a network owned by Nic Gabunada. Nic Gabunada served Pres. Duterte’s 2016 campaign team as the social media manager. Facebook said that while the organization behind the problematic accounts and Facebook groups attempted to conceal their identities, their internal investigation has reached to a conclusion that all of them originated from a network linked to Gabunada.
“We are constantly working to detect and stop this type of activity because we don’t want our services to be used to manipulate people. We’re taking down these Pages and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they posted. In this case, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action,” Gleicher said in a blog post in Facebook Newsroom entitled “Removing Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior From The Philippines.”
There were 67 Facebook pages along with 68 Facebook accounts, 40 Groups, and 25 Instagram accounts that were taken down. Facebook reveals that in total, the said fraudulent facebook content pages and groups have a reach totaling to millions.
“About 3.6 million accounts followed one or more of these Pages, about 1.8 million accounts joined at least one of these Groups and around 5,300 accounts followed one or more of these Instagram accounts,” Gleicher wrote in a blog post.
The internal investigation conducted by the California-based tech company has also revealed that the organization connected to Gabunada spent a total of USD 59,000 for ads on Facebook paid for in Philippine peso, Saudi riyal, and US dollars. The operations started paying for media space on Facebook in January 2014, two years before the infamous 2016 elections that put Pres. Duterte to the office and the most recent advertisement ran in March 2019.
The five-year operation was identified by Facebook, which includes accounts and Pages through an ongoing internal investigation into Philippines-linked coordinated inauthentic behavior. Gleicher said that their assessment came from open source reporting and they have shared relevant information with policymakers and other industrial partners as the basis for their course of action regarding Facebook’s findings.
The Philippines has been trying to suppress the proliferation of fake news and misleading contents following the boom of the criticism against the abusive behavior of some politicians in social media. In 2017, a law was proposed entitled Anti-Fake News Act of 2017 that seeks to “penalize any person who maliciously offers, publish, distribute, circulate, and spread fake news or information or cause the publication, distribution, circulation or spreading of the same in print, broadcast or online media.”
The legislation was introduced by Senator Joel Villanueva and is still awaiting decisions from both the upper and lower houses of the Congress for passing. /apr