Premeditated murder: The character assassination of Leila de Lima

Category: Best data-driven reporting (small and large newsrooms)

Country/area: Philippines

Organisation: Rappler

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 12 Jun 2019

Credit: Pauline Macaraeg

Project description:

Philippine Senator Leila De Lima is one of the most controversial opposition figures in the country. In just 3 years, her public image turned from dignified to dishonorable.

In this story, we traced her downfall – from being elected to being kept in jail for over 1,000 days – and how social media had a hand in all of it. We zoomed in on one Facebook channel that spread lies about the senator through a manipulated video, then looked at how its content were amplified by other disinformation channels, and vice versa.

Impact reached:

The project shows that politicking is now also done online. Rappler has published other studies that show how the current administration utilized social media in campaigning, but this is the first that showed how it can directly affect a person’s public image and personal life.

Techniques/technologies used:

After spotting Pinoy Republic’s manipulated video, we used our own social media monitoring tool to determine the pages and websites connected to Pinoy Republic. We then visualized the networks using the online tool Flourish.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The hardest part was pointing out the main accounts and pages that spread false and harmful information about Leila De Lima.​

For about 3 years, Rappler has seen numerous dubious posts on social media attacking the senator. We’ve tracked the pages that shared them since 2016, but we couldn’t say for sure that there was a concerted effort to damage the senator’s image because the online accounts were scattered. Not until we spotted Pinoy Republic’s blatant act of deception (i.e. the manipulated video) did we start to piece things together. From there on, we had a focal point, and built our project around it successfully.

What can others learn from this project?

That social media is powerful. Because it is accessible to almost everyone, the reach of information made available on the platforms is wide. The harm it can cause is not limited online – it can also ruin lives offline.

Project links: