What do people need to watch out for when investigating troll operations?
Twelve Philippine senators recently filed a resolution, seeking an investigation into reports that public funds are being used for troll farms.
Senate Resolution 768 says Filipinos should know why the national government focuses on spending money on these operations rather than on pressing issues, such as COVID-19 assistance, healthcare, food security, jobs protection, and education.
The senators who signed the resolution are Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, and senators Francis Pangilinan, Nancy Binay, Leila de Lima, Richard Gordon, Risa Hontiveros, Panfilo Lacson, Manny Pacquiao, Grace Poe, and Joel Villanueva.
Troll farms, the spread of disinformation, and the weaponization of social media are not new to Filipinos. Social media was a key factor in Rodrigo Duterte’s victory in the 2016 presidential polls, and international experts have dubbed the Philippines as “patient zero” when it comes to digital disinformation.
The senators said the rise in social media and internet usage paved the way for the propagation of internet trolls.
If senators will investigate these online operations that spread lies, hate, and disinformation, then here are some of the questions they should ask.
What better way to mobilize troll armies than by tapping influential figures or people in positions of power for wider reach?
One way the Duterte administration harnesses support for the President is by legitimizing vitriolic attacks on its critics in a bid to control online sentiment.
Celebrities have also been found to be spreading propaganda and fake news, lending legitimacy to questionable sites and fake networks.
However, beyond identifying the operators behind these networks, investigators need to ensure these people are held to account.
The subject as well as the target of troll army operations can provide more leads on the people behind them.
The United States-based network analysis firm Graphika found that the pages involved in Gabunada’s fake network – unsurprisingly – spread pro-government content as well as conspiracy theories about political opponents.
In a separate report, Graphika found that a Chinese fake account network had a significant focus on Senator Imee Marcos. Rappler also previously reported on other fake networks supporting the Marcos family, and how widespread disinformation on the Marcoses has attempted to rewrite Philippine history.
Most recently, information crowdsourced by Rappler showed Facebook pages and groups as well as Twitter accounts with large followings were renamed to promote potential candidates for 2022. The reports show the practice benefits mostly allies of President Duterte, including his daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, and Taguig City 1st District Representative Alan Peter Cayetano.
The top social media platforms in the Philippines are YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. Any of these platforms can be a possible battleground for disinformation operations, especially as the 2022 elections approach.
Facebook’s third party fact-checking program does not stop misinformation and disinformation from spreading on its chat app, Messenger. Private messages and channels allow false posts to spread undetected by the platform. – Rappler.com