Coronavirus response: Online outrage drowns out Duterte propaganda machine

Country/area: Philippines

Organisation: Rappler

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 24 Apr 2020

Credit: Don Kevin Hapal, Sofia Tomacruz

Project description:

The project uses data to show a rare instance of the Duterte administration’s infamous propaganda machine drowned out online by an organic campaign for his ouster, after the government’s dismal response to the coronavirus crisis.

Impact reached:

The project narrated, in great detail, the first time the Duterte administration and its propaganda machine was unable to contain widespread backlash online. In previous instances, sophisticated information operations have been used to successfully control a PR crisis and divert attention. The story was not only able to explain how the backlash happened, but prove that it was organic.

Techniques/technologies used:

Natural language processing was used on social media data gathered through a mix of proprietary and third party social listening tools, in order to visualize the dominant themes within online conversations. Network analysis was used to segment users within the conversation by interest groups, as well as to check for coordinated behavior.

What was the hardest part of this project?

For this project, the writer had to monitor and collect the data on the backlash as it happened, then process, visualize, and analyze as fast as possible, for it to be relevant when published, and make an actual impact. Researching information cascades and disinformation online requires journalists to do research, which usually takes academics and other researchers more time to make, at a much faster pace.

What can others learn from this project?

The project shows that no amount of propaganda and information operations can stand against an organic mob of unsatisfied citizens, and that propaganda won’t always be able to cover up corruption and incompetence. Other journalists can also take cue from its methodology in monitoring networks and information cascades, and distinguishing an organic movement from a coordinated campaign.

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