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Twitter suspends accounts defending Duterte's pandemic response

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Twitter took down "hundreds of accounts" tweeting under specific hashtags meant to defend the Philippine government response to the coronavirus pandemic.

An email from Twitter to The Washington Post on Thursday, April 9, said the accounts in question violated Twitter's policies against platform manipulation and spamming. This includes posting duplicate content across multiple accounts, making duplicate or multiple accounts, and sending a large number of unsolicited replies or mentions.

The Washington Post report follows other similar takedowns reported in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Honduras, Serbia, and Indonesia.

Unrest in Twitter, battle over hashtags

The Washington Post report noted that hashtags in support of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte followed after public outcry over government actions against the poor during the coronavirus quarantine. These hashtags included #IStandWithThePresident and #YesToABSCBNShutdown, which trended in the morning of Thursday, April 2.   

The pro-administration hashtags mentioned became one of Philippine trending topics on Twitter hours after the hashtag #OustDuterteNow dominated worldwide trending topics from late evening of Wednesday, April 1, to early morning of Saturday, April 2.

#OustDuterteNow registered over 526,000 tweets at its peak. This happened following an impromptu televised address delivered by the President late Wednesday evening where he threatened to have quarantine violators shot. Duterte delivered the impromptu address hours after police rounded up urban poor residents who were demanding help amid the lockdown. 

April 1 was also the day the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) summoned Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto for alleged violation of Republic Act No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act. As copies of the subpoena circulated on Facebook and Twitter, the hashtag #ProtectVico also rose to trending topic lists. 

Discontent over the way the Philippine government has been responding to the COVID-19 outbreak has prompted many Filipinos, forced to stay home during the lockdown, to take their grievances to social media. Days before the hashtag #OustDuterteNow trended on Twitter, netizens also went after pro-administration social media accounts and Facebook pages and used the hashtag #MochaUsonIsOverParty to encourage people to report them.

After the hashtag #MochaUsonIsOverParty trended worldwide on Twitter, the Facebook page of pro-administration social media account Mocha Uson Blog became temporarily unavailable.    

Other hashtags used by critics included the hashtag #ICantStandThePresident. Pro-administration hashtags included #OursDuterte, #DutertePaRin, and #ProtectTheRepublic.

Facebook saw similar activities, with shared word-for-word copies of posts spreading among accounts supporting Duterte. 

That said, the Philippines was not on the March list of networks that Facebook took down. – Rappler.com