Twelve senators have called for an investigation into allegations that public funds are being used to run “troll farms” as elections draw near.
“Filipinos should know why government spends public funds on troll farm operators disguised as ‘public relations practitioners’ and ‘social media consultants’ who sow fake news rather than on Covid-19 assistance, health care, food security, jobs protection, education, among others,” read Senate Resolution No. 768 that was signed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, and Senators Nancy Binay, Leila de Lima, Richard Gordon, Risa Hontiveros, Panfilo Lacson, Emmanuel Pacquiao, Francis Pangilinan, Grace Poe and Joel Villanueva.
The resolution sought a direct inquiry into state-backed and state-funded spreaders of misinformation.
A social media troll, the resolution noted, is “someone who creates conflict on sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit by posting messages that are particularly controversial or inflammatory with the sole intent of provoking an emotional response from other users.”
The resolution pointed out that the Department of Finance had awarded a P909,122 communications strategy consultancy contract to a public relations practitioner who was tagged by Facebook itself as the “operator behind a pro-Duterte fake account network which Facebook took down in March 2019.”
State auditors have also flagged the Presidential Communications Operations Office for the “unrestricted and massive” hiring 375 contract of service personnel in 2020, costing taxpayers a whopping P70.6 million.
According to the senators, allegations of the use of public funds for the operation of “troll farms” cannot be taken lightly given that Filipinos regularly use social media, making them vulnerable to internet trolls.
A Senate investigation is long overdue because a poor country like the Philippines that has been struggling mightily throughout the Covid-19 pandemic has no business spending much needed public funds on troll farms that only exist to spread misinformation and manipulate public perception. State funded troll farms are not only a corrupt use of public funds, the misinformation they spew also corrupts the minds of the public. Any government agency or official that nurtures troll farms deserves to be penalized for their role in such corruption and this investigation is hoped to shine a light on this odious practice so it can be stopped before it gets out of hand.*