The armies of trolls at war

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

Given the advances in technology and the artificial intelligence (AI), the online media has become the most effective platform to spread information, including disinformation. Even President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is actively engaged in his own social media platforms. In fact, President Marcos, or PBBM for short, believes so much in the power of social media. He remains very active in his personal V-blogs on YouTube and on his Twitter (now called “X”) account where he usually posts his announcements and comments.

Just last Friday, PBBM came out in a pre-taped video message and released through the official social media accounts of the Presidential Communications Office (PCO). The Chief Executive addressed in particular the massive power outage that hit Panay Island on the second day of the new year 2024. PBBM has been doing the same video messages in the past on other specific issue, or chosen topic.  

He even does video birthday greetings released to certain Cabinet members, or government officials, political allies, close friends and just to whoever is lucky enough to get through to his social media administrators. Every Filipino pols do it, too, anyway.

Actually, PBBM’s immediate predecessor at Malacañang did the same active engagements in social media. But the social media was most deployed during the term of former President Rodrigo Duterte. Run by his most loyal and rabid supporters collectively dubbed as “DDS,” or Diehard Duterte Squad, they got branded as “army trolls” in various social media platforms. They deliver the less fatal attacks compared to the original meaning of the “DDS,” or the Davao Death Squad associated with the alleged extrajudicial killings when he was still the Mayor of Davao City for the longest time. The evolved DDS engage into character assassinations via online attacks and bashing. 

Now fondly called FPRRD, the former Davao City Mayor himself is not personally active in social media. Like typical Filipino pols, Mr. Duterte is more into mainstream or traditional media. In fact, he revived his own weekly radio/TV program “Gikan sa Masa” that used to be aired every Sunday via ABS-CBN while he was at the Davao City Hall. 

The now controversial “Gikan sa Masa” is currently carried every Tuesdays by the SMNI Network. Owned and run by his spiritual adviser, equally controversial Pastor Quiboloy. The network is fighting the suspension order issued by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC). Its franchise is also under fire at the House of Representatives following the counter charges by Mr. Duterte against Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez on the use of “confidential funds.”  

It was in obvious retaliation after the 19th Congress questioned and cut the “confidential funds” of Mr. Duterte’s equally feisty daughter, Vice President and concurrent Education Secretary Sara Duterte. And who, by the way, is also actively engaged in her own Facebook account where she posted her now quotable “tambaloslos” dig to an un-named official.

Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police (PNP) has sought to take down videos going viral in Facebook and YouTube as behind allegedly spreading disinformation. The PNP plans to take legal actions against two content creators behind the alleged destabilization plot foisting a supposed clamor among military and police officers for the ouster of PBBM.  

This is what we get from government officials who run their offices through social media.

The advisers of PBBM still believe the social media they used extensively during the May 2022 presidential campaign carried their standard-bearer to the hearts and minds of 31 million Filipino voters.

Question: Were all these 31 million voters connected online, or have social media presence?

Many shrewd politicians, including the Marcoses also made use of the various social media platforms at their disposal in running their election campaigns. It was to them not only the most convenient but also cost-effective way to promote their respective candidacies, especially those who run for national offices.

PBBM is quite convinced the social media is the best mode to continue his direct interaction to the public, including the mainstream media. But all presidential activities are “must” media events, except for the so-called “Private Time” of the President. It is also the “presidential prerogative” of the Chief Executive to choose what, who, when, or where he would like to get interviewed by media. I have learned these things by heart up close and personal after having covered the past four Presidents at Malacañang from 1986 to 2005.

So it took me by surprise to learn that the members of the Malacañang Press Corps (MPC) have been literally shut out of the Palace since PBBM took office in June last year. The MPC, consisting of reporters from print, TV, radio and online media were previously accommodated at the offices in the New Executive Building (NEB), infamously called “Borloloy” building. 

As I was told, the MPC were moved out of the NEB because the “Borloloy” building supposedly needs another “renovation.” Now one year and a half into PBBM’s six-year term, there is no word yet how soon the NEB “renovation” will be completed.   

So the MPC continues to be housed at the First Residences building located near the Nagtahan Bridge in J.P. Laurel. Presumably, it is a leased premises by the PCO headed by ex-journalist, Cheloy Garafil. The PCO itself has been using leased offices at the UN Avenue in Manila.

The devil is in the details. So I would like to believe PBBM does not know how his own MPC has been struggling to get back in their natural coverage inside the corridors of power. 

Enhanced by the AI technology, we are caught in the middle of a raging war among these faceless, nameless “armies of trolls” and news “fakers.” Sadly for them, the Filipino people all the way to the so-called “Generation-Z” have learned to embrace the reliability and trustworthiness of the traditional, legacy mass media like The STAR.

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