Social Media and Disinformation
Fake Accounts, Bots, and Trolls: How Social Media influences Philippine’s Future

World Press Freedom

FNF Southeast and East Asia and Asia Centre conducted a special event in honour of the World Press Freedom Day on the 3rd of May 2022. 

As the general elections in the Philippines are mere days away, the son of Philippines former dictator, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, is leading the polls with at times more than 65 percent of votes predicted. He has succeeded in minimising the human rights abuses during his father’s reign and has pledged to bring “unifying leadership” to the Philippines. His social media campaign tactics have been remarkable and it has been changing Filipino’s perception of their own history and perhaps even their future. How has he been overturning his odds?

On the 3rd of May 2022, Asia Centre and FNF Southeast and East Asia hosted a special hybrid round table discussion to assess the impact of social media on mainstream media and on the predicted results of the General Election. Greg Kehailia, the Country Director of “Internews Philippines”, examines why the Philippines has become vulnerable to social media as a tool for disinformation.  Internews has actually supported a study on the Philippines’ digital space. “Filipinos are spending on average 10 hours and 56 minutes on the Internet a day – the longest time globally. Furthermore, they are spending an average of 4 hours and 15 minutes using social media a day, twice the global average” Greg explains during the event. In addition, digital media agency WeAreSocial, found that due to the pandemic and the online working culture, this has generated 16 million new user accounts as of January 2021. This equates to 1 in every 3 Filipino being new to the digital space and of being digitally illiterate. This potentially makes them vulnerable to disinformation and online manipulation techniques.

Marcos Jr. is using his dominant social media presence to his advantage. By creating false accusation to his opposition Leni Robredo, and simultaneously painting himself as a victim of injustice. His campaign primarily utilizes micro-influencers, celebrities, fake accounts, bots, and trolls.  “Micro-influencers are earning around 58,000-68,000 pesos, more than 10 times the average teacher’s salary” Krixia Subingsubing a journalist from the “Philippine Daily Inquirer”, said during the event to demonstrate that Marcos Jr has not invested in regular advertising streams but through the channel of micro-influencers. These micro-influencers and celebrities are generating a huge impact on the political perspective of Filipinos, as they create content to attack Leni Robredo which is being seen and supported by their followers. Trolls and bots have also been utilized to spread disinformation that Robredo is “stupid” or “clueless” or peddling false narratives that she is a card-carrying communist and plans on forming a coalition government with the rebels. Twitter has had to suspend more than 300 accounts reportedly promoting Marcos Jr. due to a violation of its policies against platform manipulation and spam.

Joel Mark Barredo

Joel Mark Barredo, Executive Director of SHAPE SEA Secretariat, Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies and at Mahidol University

“What hurts is that we have been there, we have done that […] we toppled a dictator with blood on his hands and celebrated that our media is generally free to be critical, to report, to disseminate information and knowledge… what happened to us Filipinos?” One of the reactors, Joel Mark Barredo, Executive Director of SHAPE SEA Secretariat, Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies and at Mahidol University asked the audience. “Social media has now become a sower of discord” he remarked.

The war on disinformation is not endemic only to the Philippines. Globally, we must support journalist and fact-checking. Social media can also increase moderation and collaborate with news channel and fact checking organizations. Another crucial factor is to increase digital illiteracy through education to create responsible digital citizens.

The Philippines is showing us the power of social media to rewrite both our past and our future.

For more information on the event please visit: https://asiacentre.org/disinformation-winner-of-2022-philippines-presidential-election/?fbclid=IwAR0lalgTRCqPeLH5I8YCd6ACSN4Dtx2C64RpdhlTIIOwVjJvfHK7Mjg-nqE

You can also check out the publication our publication Media Freedom in Southeast Asia here.

*Sky Chatuchinda is the regional communication officer for the office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in Bangkok, Thailand.