Makabayan bloc, activists ask: Were public funds used for fake Facebook accounts ops?
MANILA, Philippines — After social media company Facebook shut down a network of fake accounts traced to the country’s military and police institutions, activists and lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc have another question:
Were public funds involved in the police and military operations?
Rights group Karapatan said on Wednesday that Facebook’s move to take down the accounts proves their hunch that attacks against activists online were state-sponsored — stressing that the next move is to identify whether this was bankrolled by people’s taxes.
“We welcome Facebook’s move as urgently-needed action to put a halt on the worsening red-tagging and State-backed disinformation campaigns […] These forms of online disinformation and lies have put the rights, lives, and security of human rights defenders — and even ordinary individuals — at grave risk,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said in a statement.
“However, the more pressing question before us now is: were taxpayers’ money used to fund these Facebook accounts? And how much is the government spending to spread lies?” she asked.
Facebook said that there were over 100 fake accounts being used within a network — or coordinated inauthentic behavior (CIB) — with most of the posts centering on criticizing activists, opposition groups, and ideals of activism and communism. The accounts were traced to the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
The social media company clarified that the content was never a criteria in taking down accounts. Rather the main factor was the accounts engaging in CIB, attempting to deceive people who are really behind the accounts by making fake profiles.
Rep. Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna party-list meanwhile urged the social media account to publicize the fake accounts to confirm who is beyond these operations, while also urging Congress to investigate the issue.
“Congress should also investigate these fake FB accounts because public funds may have been used to bankroll these operations as these accounts have been traced to have connections to the AFP and PNP and their operations intensified when the NTF-ELCAC was in full swing,” Zarate said.
Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago on the other hand said that the taking down of accounts comes as good news for activists and progressive groups who are being targeted online for their beliefs.
Elago has been one of the most-targeted lawmakers and activists on social media, with several accounts supportive of the administration including those from the PNP offices itself labeling her as a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA).
“Even as we rightfully welcome Facebook’s findings and action, there are many more pages and accounts that need to be checked for posting similar contents inciting harm and hate against vocal critics, the opposition and dissidents,” she noted.
“Since official government and law enforcement agencies’ pages are weaponized for disinformation, Congress must urgently probe into the public funds and resources being spent to spread false content, manipulate information, and threaten the right to know and civil liberties of the people,” she added.
The purge of accounts linked to PNP and AFP was the second of two networks recently shut down by Facebook, the other being a cluster of fake accounts engaging in CIB also, based in China’s Fujian province.
According to Facebook Head of Security Policy Nathaniel Gleicher, the China-based network made posts in Filipino, English, and Chinese, with most of the content being published centering on support for President Rodrigo Duterte, and the possible presidential bid of her daughter, Davao Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio. [ac]
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