HomeFeaturesTimeline: Facebook, Twitter act on online fakery in the Philippines

Timeline: Facebook, Twitter act on online fakery in the Philippines

Dubbed since 2010 as the world’s social media capital, the Philippines has seen the rise of social media use for partisan political ends

Dubbed since 2010 as the world’s social media capital, the Philippines has seen the rise of social media use for partisan political ends, culminating in President Rodrigo Duterte’s election in 2016.

But many bewail the parallel increase in disinformation, hate speech, and trolling.

Social media giants Facebook and Twitter have since 2018 investigated reports on coordinated inauthentic behavior and other questionable online activity. The reports appear to confirm growing suspicion that the Duterte regime is backing, using, financing and even profiting from the prohibited activities.

In the latest report, Facebook took off its gloves and categorically said the Philippine military and police, as well as China, are involved.




September 2020: Facebook cracks down on two networks

Facebook removed 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.”

  • Followers: About 133,000 accounts followed one or more of these Pages, around 61,000 people joined one or more of these Groups, and about 150 accounts followed one or more of these Instagram accounts.
  • Advertising: About $60 in spending for ads on Facebook paid for in Chinese yuan.

They originated in China and focused primarily on the Philippines and Southeast Asia more broadly, and also on the United States.

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Facebook identified “several clusters of connected activity that relied on fake accounts to pose as locals in countries they targeted, post in Groups, amplify their own content, manage Pages, like and comment on other people’s posts particularly about naval activity in the South China Sea, including US Navy ships.” 

“This campaign took operational security steps to conceal their identity and location including through the use of VPNs. Some of this network’s Pages were previously removed for violating our inauthentic behavior and spam policies,” said Facebook.

According to Facebook, the network “posted in Chinese, Filipino and English about global news and current events including Beijing’s interests in the South China Sea; Hong Kong; content supportive of President Rodrigo Duterte and Sarah Duterte’s potential run in the 2022 Presidential election; criticism of Rappler, an independent news organization in the Philippines; issues relevant to the overseas Filipino workers; and praise and some criticism of China. In the US, where this network focused the least and gained almost no following, they posted content both in support of and against presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden and Donald Trump.”

“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities and coordination, our investigation found links to individuals in the Fujian province of China,” said Facebook.

Silhouettes of laptop users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. (Photo by Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Philippine network

Facebook also removed another network consisting of 57 Facebook accounts, 31 Pages and 20 Instagram accounts “for violating our policy against foreign or government interference which is coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign or government entity.” 

“This network originated in the Philippines and focused on domestic audiences,” said Facebook.

  • Followers: About 276,000 accounts followed one or more of these Pages and about 5,500 people followed one of more of these Instagram accounts.
  • Advertising: Around $1,100 in spending for ads on Facebook paid for in Philippine peso.

Facebook’s investigation into the network found links to Philippine military and Philippine police.

“This network consisted of several clusters of connected activity that relied on fake accounts to evade enforcement, post content, comment and manage Pages. This operation appeared to have accelerated between 2019 and 2020. They posted in Filipino and English about local news and events including domestic politics, military activities against terrorism, pending anti-terrorism bill, criticism of communism, youth activists and opposition, the Communist Party of the Philippines and its military wing the New People’s Army, and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines,” said Facebook.

April 2020

The Washington Post reported that Twitter suspended “hundreds of accounts” tweeting under hashtags defending the Duterte regime’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The report said that accounts were found to be in violation of Twitter’s platform manipulation and spam policies.

The policies ban “posting duplicate content across multiple accounts, creating duplicate or multiple accounts, and sending large numbers of unsolicited replies or mentions.”

“Many of the users tweeting support had suspicious elements: bot-like numbers on Twitter handles, few followers and new accounts,” said the report.

March 2019

Facebook removed 200 Pages, Groups and accounts that “engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior on Facebook and Instagram in the Philippines, misleading others about who they were and what they were doing.”

  • Presence on Facebook and Instagram: 67 Pages, 68 Facebook accounts, 40 Groups and 25 Instagram accounts.
  • Followers: About 3.6 million accounts followed one or more of these Pages, about 1.8 million accounts joined at least one of these Groups and around 5,300 accounts followed one or more of these Instagram accounts.
  • Advertising: Around 59,000 USD in spending for ads on Facebook paid for in Philippine peso, Saudi riyal and US dollars. The first ad ran in January 2014 and the most recent ad ran in March 2019.

“The people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves,” said Facebook.

They “used a combination of authentic and fake accounts to disseminate content “ and “frequently posted about local and political news, including topics like the upcoming elections, candidate updates and views, alleged misconduct of political opponents, and controversial events that were purported to occur during previous administrations.” 

They also attempted to conceal their identities, but Facebook’s investigation found the network was organized by Nic Gabunada, Duterte’s social media director in his 2016 presidential campaign.

A file image of a man starting his Twitter App on a mobile device. (Photo by Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters)

January 2019

Facebook banned Twinmark Media Enterprises for “repeatedly violating misrepresentation and spam policies — including through coordinated inauthentic behavior.” 

  • Presence on Facebook and Instagram: 220 Facebook Pages; 73 Facebook accounts; 29 Instagram accounts
  • Followers: About 43 million accounts followed at least one of these Facebook Pages
  • Facebook Pages with highest number of followers:
    • Filipino Channel Online: 10.4 million
    • Gorgeous Me: 5.7 million
    • Unhappy: 4.9 million
    • Text Message: 4.4 million
    • TNP Media: 4.3 million

Facebook said that Twinmark used fake accounts, leading people to ad farms, and selling access to Facebook Pages to artificially increase distribution and generate profit.

“Twinmark was selling admin rights to Facebook Pages it had created, in order to increase distribution and generate profit, which violates our spam policy. This prompted our teams to take a deeper look at a broader group of Pages and accounts associated with these users, ultimately uncovering a large network of Pages and accounts that were engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior, the use of fake accounts, leading people to ad farms and selling access to Facebook Pages,” said Facebook.

Twinmark Pages and websites were regularly shared by Mocha Uson, a Duterte appointee in government.

October 2018

Facebook removed a network of 95 Pages and 39 accounts “for violating our spam and authenticity policies”

  • Pages include names like Duterte Media, Duterte sa Pagbabago BUKAS, DDS, Duterte Phenomenon, DU30 Trending News, Hot Babes, News Media Trends, Bossing Vic, Pilipinas Daily News, Like and Win, and Manang Imee, Karlo ang Probinsiyano
  • Followers: 4.8 million followed at least one of these 95 Pages

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