MANILA, Philippines — A party-list lawmaker expressed alarm over a report by US-based human rights watchdog Freedom House revealing that the Philippine government has been allegedly employing a “keyboard army” that supports the Duterte administration’s anti-narcotics drive and attacks its detractors.
“If indeed these reports are true, it is very alarming that the government itself is taking deliberate efforts to deceive the people and mask the real situation of the Duterte administration’s war on drugs,” Magdalo partylist Rep. Gary Alejano said.
“The salt on the wound is, these are government funds being used for the proliferation of fake news and propaganda in social media. Funds that could instead be used for various social development projects,” he added.
The Freedom House report titled, Freedom of the Net 2017: Manipulating Social Media To Undermine Democracy, said commenters, trolls, automated accounts, fake news sites, and propaganda outlets are paid to make it appear that Duterte’s war on drugs had been gaining public support.
Alejano said the administration should be transparent on how it spends government resources for communications.
“I call on the DICT (Department of Information and Communications Technology) to verify the integrity of these reports. I also urge Congress to conduct an inquiry for appropriate legislative intervention regarding the issue. It is imperative that this issue be given critical attention especially since government funds are involved,” he said.
In its report, Freedom House said the Philippines was “among 30 countries where governments were found to employ armies of ‘opinion shapers’ to spread government views, drive particular agendas, and counter government critics on social media.”
“The number of governments attempting to control online discussions in this manner has risen each year since Freedom House began systematically tracking the phenomenon in 2009,” Freedom House said.
“But over the last few years, the practice has become significantly more widespread and technically sophisticated, with bots, propaganda producers, and fake news outlets exploiting social media and search algorithms to ensure high visibility and seamless integration with trusted content,” it added.
The watchdog said that according to former members of the Duterte administration’s alleged keyboard army, “they could earn $10 (P500) per day operating fake social media accounts that supported Rodrigo Duterte or attacked his detractors in the run-up to his May 2016 election as president.”
“(M)any have remained active under his administration, amplifying the impression of widespread support for his brutal crackdown on the drug trade,” Freedom House said.
A study done by Oxford in July this year found that Duterte’s camp spent around P10 million to hire trolls who would spread propaganda and target the opposition.