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Duterte says online defenders, trolls hired only during campaign

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte admitted paying people to defend him on social media but said this only happend during the campaign season and not after he was elected.

A study by academics from the University of Oxford claims Duterte's camp paid US$200,000 or P10 million for a social media campaign in which volunteers and paid persons or groups used social media accounts to promote him or defend him against critics. (READ: Government 'cyber troops' a global phenomenon – study)

"P10 million ang gastos ko? Ako? Sa election siguro, sa elections ma'am more than [that]...They were all during the campaign," said Duterte on Monday, July 24, during a press conference after his State of the Nation Address.

(I spent P10 million? Me? Maybe in the elections, in the elections, I spent more than that...They were all during the campaign.)

To dispel the notion of his government still paying social media users for propaganda, Duterte said he has no need for defenders.

"Pero ngayon, hindi ko na kailangan (But now, I do not need it). I do not need to defend myself against attacks. I stated my piece during my inauguration and my campaign," said the President.

Duterte then called the University of Oxford, one of the top educational institutions in the world, a school for stupid people.

"Oxford University? Eskwelahan sa mga bobo 'yan ah (That's a school for the stupid people)," he said. 

A 3-part Rappler report detailed how groups supportive of Duterte have used social media to spread propaganda over the internet. This is done partly through bots and fake accounts that work together to spread the same message and create an alternative reality for real people to believe in.

To show his gratitude for one online defender, Mocha Uson, Duterte appointed her assistant secretary for the Presidential Communications Operations Office.

Malacañang has also allowed pro-Duterte bloggers to cover some of his official foreign trips and is supposedly crafting a policy to accredit them for presidential coverage of events. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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