Two more Army soldiers identified as operators of fake Facebook network

Two more soldiers from the Philippine Army were identified to be among the operators of the fake pages that were taken down by Facebook for “coordinated inauthentic behavior” against activists and legal groups.

The US-based The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) identified Bruce G. Mayam-o and Ricky-Boy Castro – whose profiles were included in the takedown – as among the military-linked accounts running social media operation with Captain Alexandre Cabales, chief of the Army Social Media Center, on behalf of the military.

Army spokesperson Colonel Ramon Zagala confirmed to Rappler that, like Cabales, Mayam-o and Castro are members of the Army's Civil-Military Operations Regiment, which is tasked to deal with and recruit communities and civilian groups that the Army needs to achieve its various missions such as ending conflict and helping in major disasters.

Zagala identified them as Corporal Bybruce G. Mayam-o and Private First Class Ricky A. Castro.

But the Army is not keen on investigating them.

DFRLab analyzed 42 user and 28 Instagram accounts from Facebook, majority of which were personal accounts. (READ: Facebook removes fake network linked to AFP, PNP)

Together with Cabales, Mayam-o and Castro were administrators of a private group called SOCIAL MEDIA OPERATION TRAINING CL-02-18.

The DFRLab report also said that Castro was an admin of two other groups: a group called “SOCIAL MEDIA OPERATION TRAINING FOR CMOSET JOLO SULU” and the “Official Civil Military Operations Regiment” closed group.

Zagala earlier said they would investigate their men “if there is a complaint of wrongdoing.”

No investigation yet

Asked again about it on Thursday, September 24, Zagala cited the statement of the Facebook Philippine Policy Team during a Wednesday meeting with Armed Forces chief of staff Gilbert Gapay:

“Based on the report of FB it is behavior and not content. So we need to ask them what content [did they spread] so we can see if they violated policy. Per their statement, it is FB policy [that was] breached. So we need to communicate with FB on this,” he said in a text message.

Military men and women are governed by a broad rule that they should show conduct becoming of an officer of the armed forces, which includes avoiding unethical practices. It's the same rule invoked by former AFP chief Eduardo Año when he slammed soldiers who shared fake news on Rappler CEO Maria Ressa in 2017.

The Facebook accounts that the 3 soldiers ran were related to the propaganda campaign of the military against communists and targeted suspected supporters and sympathizers of the rebel underground.

Facebook took down over a hundred accounts and pages with links to the Philippine military or police and said the disbanded network "consisted of several clusters of connected activity that relied on fake accounts to evade enforcement, post content, comment and manage Pages."

Gapay has asked Facebook to restore the pages of the “advocacy groups” that were taken down, particularly Hands Off Our Children, an anti-communist group that has been sharing stories about how guerrillas have been recruiting the youth to the underground.

AFP said HOOC is a legitimate “advocacy group of parents whose children were missing or had been recruited by the communist terrorist groups.” 

According to the DFRLab, while the HOOC presents itself as an independent organization led by concerned parents of radicalized youth, “it may be more closely linked to the Civil-Military Operations Regiment than it publicly lets on.” – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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