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Facebook takes down 200 accounts linked to former Duterte social media strategist

/ 05:30 AM March 30, 2019

Around 200 Facebook pages, accounts and groups operating in a network built by communications strategist Nicanor Gabunada Jr. have been taken down for taking part in a “coordinated and inauthentic behavior,” Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy said on Friday.

According to Nathaniel Gleicher, 67 Facebook pages, 68 accounts, 40 groups and 25 Instagram accounts were banned from the social media platform.

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“Our investigation could confirm that this was a cluster of coordinated behavior that is linked to a network organized by Nic Gabunada,” Gleicher said at a briefing at Facebook Philippines’ office in Taguig City.

“Today we have removed about 200 pages, groups and accounts for engaging in coordinated and inauthentic behavior … What we saw is this cluster of pages groups … a combination of authentic and fake accounts that were basically being used to drive messaging on behalf of, and related to, local [election] candidates,” he added.

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Gleicher said that around 3.6 million accounts followed one or more of the banned pages, and about 1.8 million accounts joined at least one of the groups, while there were 5,300 accounts that followed one or more of the Instagram accounts.

Attack on political foes

“They were designed to look independent, but in fact we can see that they were coordinated on the back,” he explained.

Facebook’s investigation revealed that the managers spent at least $59,000 (about P3 million) for advertisement.

“A lot of messaging was pro, sort of supporting the candidates they were working in behalf of, some would be attacking political opponents of those candidates,” Gleicher added.

In a May 2016 report in the Inquirer, Gabunada was identified as “the man behind [President] Duterte’s social media campaign.” He used to be an executive of a local television network who also helped in the campaign of former President Benigno Aquino III.

Singled out

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Gabunada said he could not understand why Facebook singled him out.

“I don’t deny that I am a member of several groups and I was asked by people to be analyst or editor or [administrator] of several pages … and those pages are really pro-Duterte pages and pro-Duterte groups,” he said.

Gabunada explained that Facebook’s nature “encourages discussion, encourages sharing of messages.”

“I have a feeling that I was singled out whereas the pro-opposition pages were not. There are more irresponsible pages like Changescamming, Pinoy Ako Blog and Now You Know, and a lot of other pages that are anti-Duterte [which] can be very vicious also,” he said.

Despite the political association, Gleicher said that Gabunada’s network was not removed based on its content, but for violating rules on fraudulent activities.

“When we do a takedown on this, it’s not because of who’s behind it, it’s not because of what their saying, [it’s] because they’re using a network of fake accounts to mislead people about who they are and the source of the information they are providing,” he emphasized.

Gleicher said that the investigation was done in partnership with a third party data and cyber-investigator based in the United States.

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TAGS: accounts, duterte, Facebook, FB, FB pages, Nathaniel Gleicher, Nicanor Gabunada Jr., Social Media, take down
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