#Trollintelligently: Fake Twitter accounts using other people’s photos exposed

March 13, 2019 - 6:40 PM
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People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo in this illustration picture taken September 27, 2013. (Reuters//Kacper Pempel)

The hashtag “#trollingintelligently” trended on Twitter Philippines after observant users found out that profile photos of some Filipino accounts are of foreign personalities and a murdered woman.

Most of the accounts were created in September 2017 and May 2018. Reverse image search on their profile pictures showed that it belonged to a different person.

The picture of a user with the handle @ErikaFuentes5 belongs to an academic named Erika Fuentes-Fernandez of the University of Texas at Dallas. 

User @BenCambao has a picture that identified a senior account manager at Reflexion Health named Ben Torres.

Another user, @IamDavidDGreat, has a picture that belongs to a professor at the University of Toronto named David Liu.

User @AquinoSheril has a picture of an Indian teacher named Sheril Kadavan who became a viral sensation.

Meanwhile, user @BrendaImperia has a picture of a Filipina who was stabbed to death by her husband in the United States. 

The veracity of their profile pictures and names were questioned by some social media users, adding “#trollintelligently” in their posts.

Behind the hashtag

The hashtag “#trollintelligently” was initially used by Senator Sonny Angara when he replied to a Twitter thread mentioning his username and accused the user of being a troll.

A user retweeted a post that said, “Feeling ko kailangan natin iremind si Sonny Angara na siya ang nagpush ng TRAIN Law ano? Parang nakakalimutan eh.”

Angara replied in the thread when a user asked how much the price of petroleum products have risen due to the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law, a legislative measure he is a sponsor of.

Screenshot by Interaksyon

The lawmaker, who is currently part of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan and Hugpong ng Pagbabago’s senatorial slate for the 2019 midterm elections, recently appeared in an interview with CNN Philippines.

He urged his critics to see the positive side of the TRAIN law despite reports saying it has significantly increased prices of commodities.

“When you criticize TRAIN, how come they don’t talk about the income tax exemption of P250,000 which benefitted millions of families?” Angara said.

“And no one talks about the estate tax, no one talks about the simplification of the tax code … The [value added tax] return for small companies, you don’t have to do it every month now,” he added.

Political trolling

An independent global media platform reported in February 2018 that “political trolling” has become an industry in the social media savvy-Philippines.

According to them, advertising and public relations strategists are the ones in charge of spreading disinformation and online propaganda through fake accounts, among others. The report said:

“At the bottom of the hierarchy, community-level fake account operators do what we call script-based disinformation work – i.e., the grunt work. Fake accounts post pre-made content on schedule and actively like and share posts to meet a daily quota. Dex calls them ‘social nobodies.'”

“They [the fake accounts] are necessary to generate illusions of engagement. Fake account operators create a bandwagon effect that affirms the key messages of a political campaign, and encourages real, unpaid grassroots supporters and political fans to openly express their support for a particular politician.”

In July 2017, an Oxford study discovered that President Rodrigo Duterte has spent $200,000 for hiring trolls with the objective to spread propaganda and attack the opposition.