Facebook’s purge of pages, accounts linked to Filipino social media manager

March 29, 2019 - 4:57 PM
Facebook purge
Amid criticisms that its vulnerabilities and business model played a part in undermining democracy around the world, Facebook's purge of dubious accounts and pages on its social media network continues. (Tim Bennett via Unsplash)

Facebook removed almost 200 pages and groups, and Instagram accounts associated with a Filipino public relations practitioner who ran social media campaigns most notable of which was in the run-up to and after the 2016 elections.

This was the second time the social media giant made a massive purge of pages and groups linked to a network in the Philippines this year.

Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy, said that they found that the people behind these online properties were linked to a network led by Nic Gabunada.

Gleicher and his team believed these pages and accounts were engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behavior” on Facebook and Instagram. Coordinated inauthentic behavior happens when groups of people work together to convince and even mislead others about who they were and what they were doing.

“The individuals behind this activity used a combination of authentic and fake accounts to disseminate content across a variety of Pages and Groups,” Gleicher explained.

“They frequently posted about local and political news, including topics like the upcoming elections, candidate updates and views, alleged misconduct of political opponents, and controversial events that were purported to occur during previous administrations,” he added.

Facebook removed a total of 67 pages and 68 accounts, 40 groups on Facebook and 25 Instagram accounts on March 28.

It announced that approximately 3.6 million accounts have followed at least one of the pages, 1.8 million accounts have joined at least one of the groups and 5,300 accounts have followed at least one of the Instagram accounts.

Furthermore, around $59,000 was spent for their advertising through the years. The first one ran in January 2014 while the most recent was this March.

“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.

Facebook also attached screenshots of samples of these pages which include Bong Go Supporters, Duterte Warriors and Kuya Sonny Angara.

Last January, Facebook banned the digital marketing group Twinmark Media Enterprises and its subsidiaries from its platform and from Instagram.

It removed 220 pages and 73 accounts on Facebook and 29 Instagram accounts due to coordinated inauthentic behavior.

Who is Nicanor Gabunada?

Gabunada was introduced as the one who led the social media team pivotal to Duterte’s landslide victory in the national elections in 2016.

He said his team were provided with a budget worth P10 million. Despite such allocation, much of their efforts at that time were volunteer work.

“I still have money to return to the campaign financier. It’s all volunteer work. The entire campaign would have been worth millions, but because it’s all volunteer work, it’s not big,” Gabunada told a news website.

They were fortunate to have existing groups that support the then mayor of Davao City, he explained, and the team only had to organize them to spread Duterte’s campaign material on Facebook and Twitter.