Facebook Inc has cleaned up and removed a social media network in the Philippines for “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”, and took the unusual step of linking it to a businessman who claimed he had managed the president’s online election campaign in 2016.
Facebook stated its investigation discovered that the online activity was linked to a network organized by a former chief executive of Omnicom Media Group Philippines, who it identified as Nic Gabunada, and claimed it had cleaned up and removed 200 pages of groups and accounts on Facebook and Instagram.
“The people behind this activity used a combination of true and fake accounts to disseminate content across a number of pages and groups”, Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of Cybersecurity Policy, claimed in a statement, dated on Thursday.
“They often uploaded about local and political news, which includes topics such as the upcoming elections, candidate updates and views, alleged misconduct of political opponents, and controversial events that were purported to occur during previous administrations,” he claimed.
Facebook claimed it had taken down the pages and accounts “based on their behavior, not the content they posted”.
Gabunada informed ABS-CBN News that it was “unfortunate” that Facebook linked him to the questionable pages and accounts.
“If they will surely have to take down my account, it’s their prerogative. On the other hand, they have to consider I’m not doing it for the sake of whatever it is that they’re accusing me of,” Gabunada said.
In an interview with the news site Rappler in May 2016, soon after President Rodrigo Duterte had been selected, Gabunada claimed he had volunteered to help lead Duterte’s social media team during his campaign.
Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Assistant Secretary Ana Marie Banaag claimed Duterte has only one communications group, the PCOO, and Gabunada is not part of it.
Duterte, a former city mayor from outside of the political elite, tapped into social media to help him win the 2016 election by a big margin.
The Philippines is because of hold mid-term elections in May 2019 that are seen as referendum on Duterte’s administration.
At least one of the pages taken down by Facebook was named “Duterte Warriors”.
The other was named “Bong Go Supporters”, referring to proponents of the president’s longtime special assistant, Christopher “Bong” Go, who is running for the Senate.
Studies have shown that the Philippines at times has led the world when it comes to sending text messages, using Facebook, and posting selfies.
Filipinos in 2017 spent on average nearly four hours a day on social media, a lot more than any other country, in accordance with a 2018 report by social media management firms, We Are Social and Hootsuite.