Facebook purges accounts rallying Sara Duterte’s presidential bid, red-tagging of gov’t critics

September 23, 2020 - 1:11 PM
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Silhouettes of mobile users
Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. (Reuters/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo)

Facebook removed more than 100 accounts related to the West Philippine Sea row and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio‘s possible bid for the 2022 national elections due to policy violations.

There has been a purge of accounts, pages and groups found to engage in “coordinated inauthentic behavior” or being deceptive of their true identities on Facebook and Instagram in different parts of the world for three years.

In the Philippines, more than 50% of these deleted assets include fan pages of President Rodrigo Duterte, his children, and close political allies.

In a statement on September 22, Facebook said it found two large networks from China and the Philippines that coordinated with one other in using fake accounts.

“In each case, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts as a central part of their operations to mislead people about who they are and what they are doing, and that was the basis for our action,” Facebook said.

Sara’s presidential bid supported by China?

A total of 155 accounts, 11 Pages, nine groups and six Instagram accounts were shut down for violating their policies against foreign or government interference which is deceptive behavior on behalf of a foreign or government entity.

Facebook traced that this network came from China, citing links to individuals in the Fujian province in China.

They then targeted or focused their activities in the Philippines, the rest of Southeast Asia and the United States. The posts were written in Chinese, Filipino and English.

For Philippine-related content, their posts mostly supported Duterte and his daughter’s campaign for presidency in 2022.

In 2019, pro-administration bloggers with a large following such as the Mocha Uson blog started to share posts from dubious websites that implied the presidential daughter to be the next chief executive.

These came after Duterte-Carpio attended the Japanese Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement on behalf of her father and met with other state leaders at the event.

There were also information about “criticism of Rappler, an independent news organization in the Philippines; issues relevant to the overseas Filipino workers; and praise and some criticism of China.”

Screenshot by Interaksyon from Facebook’s writeup

For news and events involving the Southeast Asian region, the deleted assets are about China’s interests in South China Sea and Hong Kong, which is currently fighting for its independence from the mainland.

The content related to the United States, meanwhile, showed “support of and against presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden and Donald Trump.”

Facebook’s findings stated that about 133,000 accounts followed these pages and 61,000 people more joined the groups.

In terms of advertising, about $60 was spent for ads on Facebook and paid for in Chinese yuan.

Filipinos expressed disappointment and anger over such findings and noted the possibility that this might be where the intelligence funds were spent.

Screenshot by Interaksyon

Fake accounts linked to local police and military

The other network came from the Philippines and focused on “domestic audiences” with posts written in Filipino and English.

A total of 57 accounts, 31 Pages and 20 Instagram accounts were deleted for violating the same policy against foreign or government interference. Facebook noted that the operations accelerated between 2019 and 2020.

Facebook’s investigation found these suspicious accounts linked to police and military units in the country.

Their posts mainly contained news and events about “domestic politics, military activities against terrorism, pending anti-terrorism bill, criticism of communism, youth activists and opposition, the Communist Party of the Philippines and its military wing the New People’s Army, and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.”

Screenshot by Interaksyon from Facebook’s writeup

Facebook cited Rappler and a civil society in the Philippines that brought the presence of this operations to their attention.

During a budget hearing this September, Rep. Sarah Elago (Kabataan Party-list) confronted Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana over some of his office’s social media posts that alleged activists and other government critics of being communist members.

The budget of the Philippine Communications Operations Office was also recently stalled after one of the agency’s officials Lorraine Badoy came under fire for her posts that consistently linked progressive lawmakers to communist insurgency.

Facebook specified that about 276,000 accounts followed these pages and 5,500 people more followed these Instagram accounts.

Alcadev Lumad School noted that the spreading of false information about Lumad communities is not recent.

“The police and military have long been spreading fake news against Lumad schools and organizations, and the mass movement in general. Now, the government has allotted 19,000,000,000 pesos for the NTF-ELCAC to spread more fake news and atrocities against the people,” the organization said.