Duterte Rips Facebook After it Removed Accounts Linked to Philippine Military, Police

Nonoy Espina and Jeoffrey Maitem
Bacolod/Cotabato, Philippines
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200929-PH-Internet-facebook-duterte1000 Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gives a speech at the Malacanang palace in Manila, Jan. 29, 2017.

President Rodrigo Duterte lashed out at Facebook after the social media giant took down what it said were fake accounts linked to the Philippine police and the armed forces that supported his government’s activities.

In his weekly public address late on Monday, Duterte asked what the purpose of Facebook was if not for the government to be able to disseminate its policy objectives. Last week, Facebook announced it had removed dozens of what it described as fake accounts based in China and others linked to the police and military in the Philippines.

“You cannot lay down a policy for my government. I allow you to operate here. You cannot bar or prevent me from espousing the objectives of the government,” Duterte said.

“Is there life after Facebook? I don’t know. But we need to talk.”

He also issued a veiled threat to shut down the social media giant’s operations in the Philippines.

“Facebook, listen to me. We allow you to operate here hoping that you could help us also. Now, if the government cannot espouse or advocate something which is for the good of the people, then what is your purpose here in my country?” Duterte said. Facebook last week took down accounts which it said had violated its policy against “coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign or government entity.”

The China-based accounts were traced to individuals from Fujian and consisted of “clusters of connected activity that relied on fake accounts to evade enforcement, post content and managed pages,” Facebook said.

In addition to the accounts originating in China, Facebook found that the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) were linked to accounts that actively campaigned against the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed-wing, the New People's Army.

“We also removed 57 Facebook accounts, 31 pages and 20 Instagram accounts for violating our policy against foreign or government interference which is coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign or government entity. This network originated in the Philippines and focused on domestic audiences,” Nathaniel Gleicher, head of Facebook’s cybersecurity policy, said in a statement on Sept. 22.

These domestic accounts’ activity appeared to have accelerated between 2019 and 2020 and included posts on domestic politics and military activities against terrorism, Facebook said.

On Tuesday, Facebook officials in the Philippines declined to comment on Duterte’s statements about the company.

Army-linked fake accounts?

In his speech on Monday, the Philippine president didn’t directly comment on the accounts allegedly linked to the country’s police and army. Instead, he accused Facebook of encouraging the political left.

“You know, Facebook, insurgency is about overturning government,” Duterte said.

“What would be the point of allowing you to continue if you cannot help us? We are not advocating mass destruction, we are not advocating mass massacre. It’s a fight of ideas.”

Meanwhile, the military, which last week denied that accounts maintained by it were removed, said on Tuesday that it had appealed to Facebook to reconsider taking down the account of a group called Hands-Off Our Children.

In a statement, military spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo described the group as one of parents whose children were allegedly recruited by the communist guerrillas.

He said the armed forces were “thankful to the Commander-in-Chief’s expression of support to the AFP’s campaign that, after all, may well be every Filipinos’ war against the Communist Terrorist Group NPA.”

“The AFP views Facebook and other Socmed [social media] outfits as platforms to disseminate accurate information that would empower our people to see through the lies and reject terrorist organizations masquerading as pro-people.”

Like Duterte, the forces’ spokesman said Facebook executives should discuss with the government how Filipinos would benefit from its presence in the country.

On Tuesday, Duterte spokesman Harry Roque said the president did want to talk with Facebook officials and protest their actions.

“Facebook’s recent action of taking down … fake accounts is a matter we leave to the sound judgment and discretion of the popular global social networking company,” Roque said.

“However, we are one in advocating the truth and dismissing disinformation, lies and hatred,” Roque said, calling on Facebook to exercise “prudence in all its actions to remove any doubt of bias,” given its power and reach, he said.

Facebook is immensely popular in the Philippines. An estimated 74 million people used the social networking site in the country as of 2019, official government statistics showed.

In March 2019, the social media giant took down a cluster of 200 fake accounts operated by Nic Gabunada, the man identified by news reports as the strategist behind Duterte’s social media campaign during his electoral run for the presidency in 2016. Facebook said the accounts violated rules on fraudulent activities.

Facebook said at the time that the accounts linked to Gabunada were “designed to look independent, but in fact we can see that they were coordinated.” These accounts spent at least U.S. $59,000 (2.86 million pesos) on advertisements.


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