POSTSCRIPT / March 31, 2019 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Facebook deletes DDS fake pages

WITH most netizens unable to check the authenticity of information they come across in the internet, social responsibility impels such giant platforms as Facebook, Google and Twitter to guard against fake and malicious data being circulated through them.

The policing of social media has gained urgency in the Philippines going through an election campaign marked by malicious charges, false claims, fake news, lies and such propaganda tricks of politicians.

We thus welcome the news that hundreds of Facebook and Instagram accounts/pages identified with a former social media strategist of President Duterte were taken down over the weekend for their “coordinated inauthentic behavior” that misleads the public.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook head of cybersecurity policy, said Friday they closed 68 Facebook accounts, 67 pages, 40 groups and 25 Instagram accounts identified with Nic Gabunada, a key communication strategist in the 2016 presidential campaign of the then Davao City Mayor Duterte.

PhilSTAR writer Janvic Mateo reported that about 3.6 million accounts followed one or more of the pages taken down, while another 1.8 million accounts joined at least one of the groups. Some 5,300 accounts followed one or more of the Instagram accounts axed.

In a press briefing in Taguig, Gleicher said Gabunada’s political messaging network was found to have engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior involving a network of persons or pages that “work together to mislead others about who they are and what they are doing.”

Data showed that the network spent $59,000 (around P3 million) for ads paid in Philippine pesos, Saudi riyals and US dollars between 2014 and 2019.

The pages taken down include “Bong Go Supporters,” “Duterte Warriors,” “Pinulungang Binisaya,” “Trending Now” and “Kuya Sonny Angara.” Their contents are mostly related to the May 13 midterm elections.

Gleicher said: “What we saw is this cluster of these pages, groups and accounts – a combination of authentic and fake accounts – that were basically being used to drive messaging on behalf of and related to political candidates. They were designed to look independent, but in fact they are working together.

“They would post about local and political news, they will post about the upcoming elections, candidate views. A lot of the messaging were supporting candidates they were working in behalf of, some would be attacking political opponents of those candidates.”

 Fake account networks aim to mislead

WHILE political content is not prohibited on the platform, Gleicher said, using fake accounts – like in the case of the network linked to Gabunada – is against their community standards.

He said: “The core hook here is that these groups are using fake accounts. In this context, it’s not just the use of fake accounts, it’s the use of fake accounts in an organized fashion along with groups and pages and other assets to mislead people about the origin of the content they are sharing.

“Not all of those are fake. One of the things we see in a cluster like this is a mixture of fake and authentic accounts. That could be intentional, because it lends more credence to the fake accounts.”

Gleicher said the tactic used appears similar to those of digital marketing group Twinmark Media Enterprises, which was banned in January also for coordinated inauthentic behavior.

The difference is that the accounts taken down on Friday are connected to a person and not an enterprise, he said.

Gleicher added that the tactics and techniques used to drive a commercial message can be very similar to those used on political content.

Coordinated groups are used to drive the political messaging, which involves fake accounts trying to get members motivated and engaged. “Chances are the people in those groups believe that these are independent fan pages and fan groups,” he said.

Gabunada said he was surprised with his being linked to the accounts and pages taken down by Facebook. In an interview with ABS-CBN, he described this association as “unfortunate” and surprising.

He said: “Before kasi, Facebook automatically makes you part of the group without asking you. Now they have to give consent. My name is all over the place. This may be the reason why some pages, after they examined, nandoon ang pangalan ko (my name was there).

“I was so surprised…. I just thought this is all unfortunate nailagay pangalan ko.”

 Kissing Pope’s ring not hygienic?

“IT WAS a simple question of hygiene.”

This was the explanation of Alessandro Gisotto, director of the Holy See press office, who, after being asked about the Pope’s withdrawing his hand repeatedly from a long queue of individuals who bowed to kiss the ring on March 25 in the Italian town of Loreto on the Adriatic Sea, decided to ask the Pontiff himself the reason for it.

Preventing the spread of germs, Pope Francis clarified to Gisotti, especially when there are so many people arriving one right after the other. He noted how the Pope normally allows the kissing of the ring when meeting individuals or smaller groups.

Gisotti added: “He likes to embrace people and be embraced by people.”

Vatican observers have noted that Francis’ predecessors Benedict and John Paul II were also not overly enthusiastic about the kissing of the papal ring.

The Vatican spokesman led with the clarification about the ring in his March 28 briefing on the Pope’s visit to Morocco March 30-31. Gisotti said the first day will focus on interreligious dialogue and the second on the local Catholic community, which makes up less than .1 percent of the population.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 31, 2019)

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