Fil-Am group launches 'troll exposer' website to combat disinformation ahead of May 9 polls

Fil-Am group launches 'troll exposer' website to combat disinformation ahead of May 9 polls
Facebook said it linked those behind the Philippine network to the military and the police while the Chinese network posted about several topics including content supportive of President Rodrigo Duterte and Sarah Duterte’s potential run in the 2022 Presidential election.

MANILA, Philippines — With the May 9 polls drawing closer, a group of dual citizens of the Philippines and the United States has launched a website "exposing trolls" at the forefront of widespread disinformation heavily influencing the elections.

In a statement sent to reporters, the US Filipinos for Good Governance on Monday launched TrollExposer.com, a website dedicated to exposing troll pages, accounts, and groups on Facebook.

Through its website, the group said that it "exposed" a hundred Marcos trolls, who have coordinated with each other through fake accounts, to spread fake news in sustained malicious attacks against the leading opposition presidential candidate, incumbent Vice President Leni Robredo.

“Our country has become extremely polarized through vigorous troll activity... We hope it is not too late to detoxify the minds and hearts of our people,” said Eric Lachica, USFGG Washington DC Coordinator.

“Trolls have found fertile ground in weakly regulated social media to saturate the public with disinformation. These lies have been allowed to spread through Facebook for years. Having the presidency decided based on lies that re-write history and hide the fact that much of this troll activity is state-sponsored would be a tragedy."

Why does this matter?

Academics have labeled the Philippines as the "patient zero" for digital disinformation, pointing to the disproportionate growth of disinformation operations in the Philippines in recent. 

According to the preliminary findings of Tsek.ph, a fact-checking initiative involving the academe and mainstream media, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of the late ousted dictator, has been the beneficiary of positive but misleading messaging on social media ahead of the 2022 elections.

On the other hand, Philstar.com's own fact-checking initiative has observed that Robredo has been on the receiving end of false claims seeking to discredit her as a candidate. 

The USFGG on Monday said that corrupt, powerful, and wealthy politicians have financed troll armies for this upcoming election, "frequently with the help of the Philippines government and foreign state sponsors, such as China."

While the rampant disinformation clearly favors him, presidential aspirant and son of the former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. continues to deny he has trolls and has even challenged the public to find a single troll of his.

"Fact-checkers and efforts by social media platforms to limit disinformation have not been enough to stop it. Troll Exposer is a new weapon in the arsenal against disinformation.” said Liz Derr, founder of Troll Exposer.

“Rather than focusing on content, Troll Exposer publicly exposes the social media accounts that are spreading this harmful disinformation so everyone can see who these liars are," she said.

How does it work?

TrollExposer.com provides analysis of the troll networks and activities, and the direct links to the troll Facebook accounts so that the public can explore the pages of the trolls themselves.

"Now people don’t need to trust sources they might view as biased," the group's statement reads. 

"People are desperate to understand what news can be trusted, who they can believe, and what can be done to save our democracies from further division."

The group said this methodology allows readers to do their own research to discover the activities of the trolls, and find out if the content they view online is actually the result of a covert influence operation, rather than authentic narratives from real people.

Accountability from social media owners sought

"If we can’t get social media platforms to enforce their own community standards, then we need to act ourselves. It is the right of every person to defend themselves from being manipulated by false information," said Loida Lewis, US Filipinos for Good Governance National Chair.

“The spread of harmful disinformation, manipulated narratives, and false propaganda needs to stop," she said.

"We're calling on Mark Zuckerberg and Meta/Facebook to immediately take down these fake posts and disable the trolls identified in TrollExposer.com to reduce the disinformation on his platform in the lead up to the May 9th election.”

Trolls weaponized to weaken democracies

The false narratives and propaganda that get spread by trolls on social media allow dictators and kleptocrats to weaken democracies around the world, USFGG said Monday afternoon.

"We’ve seen how dangerous disinformation and conspiracies can be in the US. In the Philippines, the danger is great and the need for action is urgent," the group said. 

The group went as far as saying that the political environment resulting from the efforts of trolls opens the possibility of a repeat of the United States Capitol attack in the Philippines. 

"The vitriol and divisiveness created by these trolls is making a January 6th-type event in the Philippines more and more probable, regardless of the outcome of the election. Meta/Facebook must act immediately to help protect our democracy by removing the lies that have divided us." — Franco Luna 

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