With anti-terror law, police-sponsored hate and disinformation even more dangerous

Country/area: Philippines

Organisation: Rappler

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 13 Aug 2020

Credit: Loreben Tuquero, Raisa Serafica, Gemma Bagayaua-Mendoza, Camille Elemia

Project description:

With the enactment of the new Philippine anti-terror law, Facebook accounts and pages connected to state forces have posed a graver threat to critics and activists due to social media posts tagging the latter as “enemies of the state” in an effort also known as red-tagging. These could actually lead to real world harm and even death.

This story showed how police accounts shared malicious content against left-leaning personalities from a network of anonymously-managed Facebook pages. These actions violate not only laws and codes but also Facebook’s policy against content that “incites or facilitates serious violence.”

Impact reached:

Following Rappler’s investigation, Facebook took down several pages and networks identified in the article. In a statement, Facebook said the dubious network it took down violated its policy “against foreign or government interference which is coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign or government entity” and had links to the Philippine military and Philippine police. This was the first time Facebook tagged a state-sponsored disinformation in the Philippines.

Techniques/technologies used:

We used our internal social media monitoring tool to track posts from the anonymously-managed pages. The team then closely monitored these pages, as well as official police websites and Facebook accounts.

The networks were then visualized using Flourish.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The most difficult parts of the project were the months long data gathering – which includes among others fact-checking and content analysis – data cleaning, and analysis.

It started from the false claims being circulated about a politician, who is a critic of President Rodrigo Duterte. The initial pages we spotted were anonymously managed. Then we saw one known propagandist post from a police page. That’s when we tried to determine whether this was an isolated incident or not and the extent of such operation.

On top of this, it was also difficult to get the response from the Philippine police. We had to wait for months.

What can others learn from this project?

There is a need to closely track disinformation to effectively fight it. 

The project just started with an appreciation of the pattern of disinformation against a presidential critic. The team decided to follow the posts, until one thing led to another.

In disinformation stories like this, individual fact-check stories are important because they will serve as the backbones of the investigation.

Millions of Filipinos are on Facebook.The platform has become the go-to place by organized disinformation campaigns in the Philippines, including that of the state.

It is critical for the media to learn, unearth, and make the public aware of the different disinformation and propaganda strategies, and to consistently do such stories so as not to drop the ball.

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