From fringe to mainstream: Tracing the myth of the Marcos gold online

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: Philippines

Publishing organisation: Rappler

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 2022-04-09

Language: English, Filipino

Authors: Pauline Macaraeg (author), Bingbong Recto (data scientist), Gemma Mendoza (editor), Don Kevin Hapal (editor)


Pauline Macaraeg is a digital forensics researcher for Rappler. She started as a fact checker and researcher in 2019, before becoming part of Rappler’s Digital Forensics Team. She writes about the developing digital landscape, as well as the spread and impact of disinformation and harmful online content.

Project description:

A data-driven investigation on how the myth of the “Marcos gold” proliferated on social media over the years, how it influenced Filipino voters before the 2022 Philippine elections, and how propaganda networks that amplified the lies dwarfed the reach of legitimate news organizations and fact-checkers in the online space over time.

The investigation illustrated the disinformation networks in the Philippines, highlighted the dangers of leaving myths and conspiracy theories unchecked, and showed the opportunity to learn from past mistakes by showcasing the power of collective action in fact-checking.

The piece was published a month before the elections.

Impact reached:

The project proved that leaving falsehoods unchecked, no matter how absurd they may sound, only causes more harm. It showed that when nations and societies allow fabrications to proliferate and remain unchallenged, their people suffer the consequences of having their own history and narratives reversed.

It was a wake-up call for experts, journalists, and educators to step up in fighting disinformation online, especially in a political climate where lies thrive – such as in the Philippines.

This groundbreaking project showed that fighting disinformation should always be a collective action. As part of the #FactsFirstPH initiative, this project exemplified how content can intersect with warm bodies to produce action. Once this project was published, it was distributed by #FactsFirstPH’s diverse network of partners working together to counter efforts to undermine democracy.

FactsFirstPH is a coalition of more than 120 groups from the media, civil society, business, research, legal sectors, and the Church, that seek to combat disinformation. The coalition studied and tackled disinformation online to equip voters with verified information ahead of the upcoming national and local 2022 elections.

Techniques/technologies used:

The team scraped Facebook for posts mentioning “Marcos gold.” These posts were then analyzed both quantitatively and qualitatively.

The major findings of the story surfaced using a community detection algorithm. This algorithm was used to determine different networks of accounts that posted about the topic. This allowed us to identify which communities propagated the lies, which communities tried to fight them, and how they evolved over the years.

The researchers also did a time series analysis of the posts, to illustrate when exactly these falsehoods surged and when the pushback started happening.

Context about the project:

This story proved that history can not only be reversed – its reversal can also be brought to the ballot box.

Previous disinformation studies have shown that the Marcos family has been using social media to reclaim power. Their supporters have also been found to attack members of the media for reporting critically about them, making it hard for the independent press to put out reports without being targeted.

In terms of innovative technologies, there are no other newsgroups in the Philippines that have the capacity to perform community detection on social media. The algorithm created by Rappler is the first of its kind.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

This project showed that with the way platforms are designed, even fringe conspiracies can be brought into the mainstream when the lies are ignored, and when social media platforms allow communities of malignant actors to exist and thrive.

The story also stressed how fact-checking alone can be lacking, when we fail to consider how lies are distributed online. This project showed that even legitimate media organizations can be isolated from online discussions that are of public concern.

This project aims to remind journalists and fact-checkers that collaboration is key in fighting disinformation.

Project links: