Disinformation research has always been a pillar of Rappler, an organization operating in a country often referred to as the “patient zero” in the global infodemic. As a pioneer in online disinformation research, the Rappler newsroom has a dedicated team of fact-checkers, supported by a wide and diverse [network](https://www.rappler.com/movements/factsfirstph/) of [partners](https://storage.googleapis.com/gweb-uniblog-publish-prod/images/Screen_Shot_2022-09-20_at_8.27.13_PM.max-1000×1000.png) working together to counter efforts and influence operations that undermine democracy.
Rappler’s Digital Forensics Team, composed of journalists and data scientists, adopts a unique content-narrative-network approach that brings the organization’s disinformation research beyond content analysis and fact-checking. It also studies the distribution networks and platform vulnerabilities that enable lies and hate to spread online, with real and sometimes violent consequences on the ground.
Mentored by veteran journalists and longtime disinformation researchers, including Nobel laureate Maria Ressa, the Digital Forensics Team works on investigative reports for Rappler’s editorial arm and disinformation research projects for international grants.
With this project, the team lives up to Rappler’s mission of journalism with impact, and has built a reputation of results-oriented investigations that led to takedowns of malignant accounts and networks, as well as spark crucial discussions on how unregulated tech platforms have severe consequences on politics, national security, human rights, and basic freedoms.
Description of portfolio:
This investigative series looked into how a shooting suspect, who is also a popular pro-administration personality on social media, used his platform to justify violence and eventually garner sympathy and support online. This project documents one of the many cases of online violence leading to on-ground violence, in a political climate where social media is weaponized to cause real, life-threatening harms in the Philippines and across the globe.
Rappler’s Digital Forensics Team looked into the online behaviors of Chao Tiao Yumol, the gunman who killed former Lamitan mayor Rose Furigay and two others in the Ateneo shooting incident. The police found that Yumol had personal motives for killing Furigay, as the two had a years-long conflict.
The team’s investigation found that, on Facebook, Yumol’s posts about the Furigay family ranged from accusations of corruption to involvement in illegal drugs. Yumol also openly supported former president Rodrigo Duterte, defended him from criticisms of his policies, and attacked his critics and mainstream media online.
Additionally, the team looked into Facebook posts and YouTube videos sympathizing with Yumol. The investigation found that, in the first two days since the shooting, almost half of YouTube videos and more than half of Facebook posts that mentioned Yumol expressed sympathy for or supported him – even if both platforms explicitly prohibit posts supporting dangerous individuals and glorifying violent events.
The investigative series raised public awareness and sparked online discussions on the close link between online and on-ground harm and how this impacts democracies, human rights, and national security. Days after our reports were published, Facebook also removed Yumol’s verified status and took down his page completely.