Activists want details, Palace official cries foul on Facebook's deletion of 'fake' accounts
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Activists want details, Palace official cries foul on Facebook's deletion of 'fake' accounts
Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - September 23, 2020 - 7:22pm

MANILA, Philippines (Updated Sept. 24, 2020, 12:26 p.m.) — Progressive groups on Wednesday welcomed Facebook's move to remove what the social media website called networks of fake accounts engaged in coordinated and inauthentic behavior and that it said were linked to the military and police.

They also raised concern over what the accounts' supposed links to security forces could mean. 

In a statement, House Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna party-list) called on Facebook to publicize the names of the accounts that it had traced to the two agencies. 

This comes after the social media giant's removal of "155 accounts, 11 Pages, 9 Groups and 6 Instagram accounts for violating our policy against foreign or government interference which is coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign or government entity," according to Facebook's Head of Security Policy Nathaniel Gleicher. 

RELATED: PNP disavows accounts Facebook took down for 'coordinated inauthentic behavior'

Facebook's Community Standards define "inauthentic behavior" as 

using Facebook or Instagram assets "to mislead people or Facebook" on their identity, purpose or origin, or on the popularity of a page or post, or "to evade enforcement under our Community Standards."

Coordinated inauthentic behavior, meanwhile, is "the use of multiple Facebook or Instagram assets, working in concert to engage in inauthentic behaviour (as defined above), where the use of fake accounts is central to the operation."

Facebook explained that it does not "allow people to misrepresent themselves on Facebook, use fake accounts, artificially boost the popularity of content or engage in behaviors designed to enable other violations under our Community Standards."

"This policy is intended to create a space where people can trust the people and communities they interact with," it also said.

Zarate seeks details on removed accounts

"We have aired our complaints against numerous troll accounts before and we are glad that some have been taken down but more remains. So it is imperative that they may be made public. The people also need to know these specific accounts that are spreading fake news and disinformation because taxpayers' money may have been used to fund these accounts,"

He said that Congress should look into the accounts "because public funds may have been used to bankroll these operations as these accounts have been traced to have connections to the [Armed Forces of the Philippines] and [Philippine National Police]."

He added that the "coordinated inauthentic behavior" intensified when the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict "was in full swing." 

The NTF-ELCAC itself, which is the government's anti-communist task force, has been the source of disinformation against government critics, including journalists and activists, over the coronavirus pandemic, having been caught in a lie on more than one occasion.

He added that the proliferation of accounts could only worsen with what he said was the "administration's ballooning  budget for intelligence and confidential funds and the generals' pork of P19.1 billion allotted under the NTF-ELCAC."

READ: PNP 'art' tags activists as terrorists amid debate on anti-terrorism bill

Zarate has himself been vilified both by the Philippine National Police and the NTF-ELCAC in posts on their official channels. 

'How much are the AFP and PNP spending on disinformation?'

In a separate statement, human rights monitor Karapatan said that posts by the fake accounts, which label activists and party-list representatives as communist terrorists "have put the rights, lives, and security of human rights defenders — and even ordinary individuals — at grave risk for voicing out dissent against the government’s anti-people policies."

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said that it must be established whether the Facebook accounts were funded by government money.

According to Facebook, the accounts in the deleted network spent around $1,100 or roughly P53,421 to advertise disinformation on the platform.

"We are in the middle of a pandemic and instead, the investigation conducted by Facebook highly suggests that the government is spending our taxes to weaponize social media to spread lies online and to attack its critics," Palabay said. 

Karapatan, in its statement, said that it sent a letter to Facebook and the Commission on Human Rights on June 9 and urged a probe into cases of online red-tagging in the country, raising alarm on the serious implications and digital security threats of these accounts and red-tagging in the platform.

Philippine jurisprudence defines the act of red-tagging as "accusing individuals of being subversives [used as a] strategy...by state against those perceived to be ‘threats’ or ‘enemies’ of the state."

Also in June, youth activist alliance Youth Act Now Against Tyranny Baguio-Benguet Chapter asked Facebook to take action against content that it said had endangered the lives of its members for months by accusing them of being rebels or rebel sympathizers..

READ: Cordillera youth group urges Facebook action on 'smear campaign' vs activists

In an online exchange with Philstar.com, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines also called attention to groups like the Cordillera People’s Alliance whose membership, which includes children, they said, have been the target of online vilification campaigns.

The rights organization also pointed out that slain human rights defender Zara Alvarez was herself red-tagged as a member of a communist armed group before she was gunned down in a private village in August, a case the group said it had already raised before the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Alvarez is the 13th human rights defender killed under the Duterte administration. 

"This only proves that the government has been investing largely in weaponizing public social media platforms to spread disinformation and target critics and civilians," ICHRP said. 

"This bogus state-funded accounts and inauthentic internet activity comes in a time where the country is barely winning the fight against COVID-19. Not only are they paying for Facebook ads, but they are also massively hiring state agents to vilify people’s organisations, activists and even anyone critical of the government. Moreso, public funds are being used to sow fear and reek confusion amongst Filipinos desperate for vital information amid the pandemic," ICHRP added. 

Palace official says removal shows 'obvious foreign interest' 

In response to Facebook's statement, Presidential Task Force on Media Security Executive Director Joel Sy Egco slammed the social networking site for what he said was its "witch hunt" which was motivated by "obvious foreign interest." 

"Since when did these self-righteous groups and individuals have the right to dictate on us as a people? To blatantly circumvent our laws by invoking their arbitrary scheme which they themselves only understand?" he wrote in his lengthy and impassioned Facebook essay.

"Besides such clear contempt of our laws, particularly a possible infringement of the Constitutional guarantee on freedom of speech and expression, I think we should also ask why they are meddling on our domestic affairs...Such targeted, biased attack should not be taken lightly," he also said.

Although the 1987 Constitution protects freedom of speech and expression, social networking sites require users to follow its internal rules when using the platform. 

Although he slammed the deactivation of the "Hands off our Children" page, which he claimed was a legitimate "advocacy page," Egco did not touch on Facebook's findings that other pages had links to police and military channels. 

Egco also claimed that he had received a death threat the year before, during which the social networking site "refused" to help him. 

"I guess, maybe, it is about time to bring this matter to court as a matter of civic duty. A class suit is at hand. We can't stand idly by while these people rape our sovereign will as a people. Isang malaking P-Ina!" he added. 

State-run Philippine News Agency meanwhile quoted presidential spokesperson Harry Roque as saying that the removal of the fake accounts is up to the "sound judgement and discretion" of Facebook.

"We hope the social media giant would exercise prudence in all its actions to remove any doubt of bias given its power, influence and reach," Roque also said.

In 2019, Facebook also removed 68 Facebook accounts, 67 pages, 40 groups and 25 Instagram accounts found to be involved in political messaging using prohibited behavior, including the use of fake accounts. 

Communications strategist Nic Gabunada, who was accused of being behind the network, alleged then that he was singled out due to his ties with President Rodrigo Duterte, whom he supported in the 2016 elections.

"I suspect that they pulled down pages and groups associated with the president and the candidates of the president because they thought it would weaken the support base and also diminish the chances of pro-admin candidates," a report by The STAR quoted him as saying then.

An earlier takedown in 2018 saw Facebook remove 95 pages and 39 accounts with political and entertainment content "for encouraging people to visit low quality websites that contain little substantive content and are full of disruptive ads."

According to a report by The STAR, a full list of removed accounts was not released, but included those of apparent supporters of President Duterte and Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos, including Duterte Media, Duterte sa Pagbabago Bukas, DDS, Duterte Phenomenon and Manang Imee.

Also removed were accounts using names and images of popular celebrities, as well as more generic “news” pages such as News Media Trends and Pilipinas Daily News.

AFP ARMED FORCES OF THE PHILIPPINES FACEBOOK NOVEL CORONAVIRUS PHILIPPINE NATIONAL POLICE PNP SOCIAL MEDIA
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