Much ado about Facebook

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I told myself days ago to endure an hour of ranting from the nation’s leader in order to hear the announcement of what our new community quarantine status will be. However, with an earlier announcement that the city government appealed to downgrade us to GCQ, it was not worth staying up late.

And it was a good decision because instead of providing us a comprehensive picture of how our country is faring amidst the pandemic, the president was more concerned about Facebook, even threatening to stop the giant social media from operating in our country.

The object of his anger was the removal of hundreds of FB accounts which according to FB’s head of security policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, were connected to two networks displaying “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” which in our lingo are troll farms and fake accounts.

One of the networks was traced to the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines which makes it all the more pathetic of how our supposed defenders of the Constitution and the people have allowed themselves to be transformed into troll farms.

This was of course denied by the police and the military. Thus, it is even amusing that you now have the president himself angered by the removal of these accounts that he said were simply espousing government’s advocacy.

“You cannot lay down a policy for my government. I allow you to operate here. You cannot bar or prevent me from espousing the objectives of government,” Duterte said. Ergo, despite their denial, there is truth then that the PNP and AFP have gone so low to allow themselves to be used like this. Such an embarrassment!

According to Gleicher however, the accounts were taken down, not because of the contents but because the posts were aimed to deceive FB users to think that the accounts were actual individuals – in other words, paid trolls used for propaganda which includes red-tagging president’s critics and promoting his daughter, Sara, as his successor. Ugh!

This is not the first time that FB removed hundreds of accounts linked to the president. In 2018, FB also removed accounts which had 4.8 million followers for being spam networks that promotes the president and criticizes his opponents.

In 2019, FB also removed over 200 accounts, groups and pages that were linked to a network organized by a former social-media campaign manager of the president when he ran in 2016. In fact, it is no secret that FB was instrumental in catapulting Mr. Mayor to Malacañang.

Now, his weapon has become his nemesis thus, turning the tables around, Duterte threatened to stop FB’s operation saying, “What would be the point of allowing you to continue if you cannot help us?”

He is so affected by the social media giant that he said he does not even know if there is life after Facebook. Incredulous! But maybe not so if he follows big brother China where FB is banned. What is ironic though is that one of the networks that were recently removed emanated from China as well.

Will the president carry out his threat? If pushed to the wall, this ‘strongman’ just might. However, will his die-hard supporters follow his command?

Yesterday, there were already propaganda materials asking “Tatay Digong” supporters to boycott Facebook. But this too is not new. In 2018, irked by the giant social media’s move to partner with Vera Files and Rappler for third-party fact checking, Duterte supporters called on other DDS***s to deactivate their FB accounts and move over to Russian social media VKontakte. Who?

If his social media handlers know better, they will not recommend that overture because they know that in the Philippines, FB is life! Especially during this pandemic when people get locked down, FB has become a source of vital information and sadly, of fake news too.

All media networks have Facebook accounts. ABS-CBN which was barred from operating, turned to social media to continue their existence and continue to have millions of following, far larger than even those who continue to legitimately run their networks.

The president told FB that he will not take this matter lightly and will summon them to discuss the matter.

Personally, I hope the DDS**s will deactivate and forever leave FB so that we have less toxic stories and propaganda floating around.

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October 2020
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