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Potential bets start advertising on Facebook as 2022 campaign shifts to social media

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, former senator Antonio Trillanes IV, and many local politicians are top ad spenders on Facebook a year before the polls. The Commission on Elections is drafting rules to govern online campaigning.

BY CHERRY SALAZAR/Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

Potential candidates have started advertising on Facebook more than a year before the May 2022 elections, spending several thousand to a few million pesos since August 2020, data from the social media platform showed.

A significant shift to online campaigning is expected during the 2022 elections, especially with mobility restrictions imposed during the pandemic, although in-person activities will remain a staple of the campaign, according to Eric Alvia, secretary general of poll watchdog National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel).

“Less people now read newspapers, and with the shutdown of ABS-CBN, there are less media outlets covering the news. People are gravitating towards social media,”  Alvia told the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ).

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian has spent P4.5 million boosting more than 600 Facebook posts over the past eight months, while former senator Antonio Trillanes IV and his supporters spent more than P1 million to promote a total of 45 posts.

They are the two biggest ad spenders so far on the social media platform among potential national candidates. It’s an average of P562,250 in ad spending a month for Gatchalian and about P130,000 a month for Trillanes.

Gatchalian’s Facebook ads were mostly about his stand on issues, particularly on the education and energy sectors. These were pushed through Gatchalian’s official Facebook page “Sen. Win Gatchalian,” which has more than two million likes and followers, as of this writing.

Trillanes advertised his page and his posts accusing President Duterte of corruption. One of the pages supporting the senator — “We support Trillanes 2022” — also showed bills he authored and sponsored. In some posts, both pages used the same graphics.

Other potential candidates have also started advertising on television and radio. Taguig Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano ran an ad that called for the passage of House Bill No. 8597, which seeks to provide each family with P10,000 in cash assistance.

Several ground activities have also been arranged nationwide, including gatherings in support of the presidential candidacy of the survey frontrunner, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, the president’s daughter. On Facebook, a few supporters paid for ads to promote her, too.

All these advertisements outside the official campaign period, which begins three months before the polls for national candidates, are not considered premature campaigning. They are not covered by election rules limiting campaign spending based on a 2009 Supreme Court ruling on a petition that sought to ban these early advertisements.

Many local pols

Other early advertisers on Facebook among potential national candidates included Antique Rep. and former senator Loren Legarda, who spent over P400,000; and Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, who spent more than P200,000 although his second term in the Senate will not end until 2025. 

Supporters of Sen. Imee Marcos, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar, and Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles also paid for ads to promote themselves. Marcos’s term also ends in 2025.

Among members of the House of Representatives, Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte, Jr. spent nearly P1 million and Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza spent over P700,000.

The Digital 2021: Global Overview report showed that Filipinos spent more time than any country in the world on the internet, particularly on social media. The report was conducted by creative agency We Are Social and social media management platform Hootsuite. 

The report also showed that Filipino netizens used social media more than four hours on average daily or nearly double the global daily average of two hours and 25 minutes.

More candidates will be relying on social media for advertising, said Rona Caritos, executive director of the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente). She noted how online campaigning, which was previously only used by national candidates during the 2016 polls, has been tapped by local candidates beginning the 2019 midterm polls.

“[Political advertising] will no longer be concentrated at the national level, especially as most Filipinos are scrolling down their Facebook feeds and are on their phone screens because of the pandemic,” she said. 

Indeed, many local politicians have paid for Facebook ads. Camarines Sur Gov. Migz Villafuerte spent nearly P1 million while Gatchalian’s brother, Mayor Rex Gatchalian of Valenzuela City, and Cebu Rep. Pablo John “PJ” Garcia both spent less than P200,000. 

PCIJ image

Facebook Ad Library

These are data available to the public through Facebook’s Ad Library, a searchable database of ads across Facebook and Instagram, showing the posts that were boosted on the social media platforms and who paid for them. 

There are 4,000 ads in the Facebook database so far, although product placements such as those by Chowking PH, the World Food Programme, and Spotify were included in the database. 

Clare Amador, Head of Public Policy of Facebook Philippines, said the tool is intended to make advertisers accountable. (READ: Q&A: ‘Facebook tool to mitigate foreign interference, make 2022 polls transparent)

It is also intended to mitigate foreign interference in elections. “We’ve been involved in more than 200 elections around the world since 2017. We know that every election is different,  so we take this experience and work closely with local experts to learn what’s most useful to mitigate risks and prevent interference,” Amador told PCIJ. 

Facebook uses artificial intelligence to review all ads before they are shown on Facebook and Instagram. 

“In certain cases, if an ad is already running and it’s about elections or politics, it can be flagged by automated systems or reported by our community. These ads will be reviewed again and if found to be violating our policy by missing a disclaimer, we will also take it down and require they complete authorizations to continue running it,” Amador said. 

James Jimenez, Commission on Elections spokesperson and director for education and information, said he welcomed the activation of the monitoring tool in the Philippines. 

“It’s very important,” he told PCIJ. It will be useful in monitoring election advertising online and make sure candidates will follow spending limits, he said.

“It’s inescapable that Facebook will be a major factor [during the campaign], but hopefully it’s not the only social media platform that people will use,” said Jimenez. 

Amador said Facebook will work with Comelec to “find ways to support them in their efforts to hold political advertisers  more accountable.”

Comelec Resolution No. 10488, detailing rules and regulations implementing the Fair Elections Act, provides rules to govern online campaign spending. 

Candidates are mandated to register their web sites and social media pages, including those that endorse the candidates, and report how much they have spent on advertising. However, monitoring was impossible in previous elections and candidates did not report it, said Lente’s Caritos. 

Jimenez said Comelec would release more guidelines for online campaigning before the start of the official campaign period in February 2022. 

While the Facebook Ad Library shows how much the candidates spend on the social media platform, it is not clear yet how Comelec will treat the ads paid for by their supporters. 

“That’s the challenge. What happens if you are a supporter and you boost your blog post that’s promoting someone’s candidacy? We’re still making the rules for that,” Jimenez said. 

Monitoring YouTube, too

Beyond monitoring the candidates’ spending, Jimenez, Alvia, and Caritos expressed concerns about misinformation and disinformation spreading online during the campaign. 

Other than Facebook, Caritos sees the need to also monitor YouTube as she expects candidates turning to the “largely unregulated” platform for unscrupulous activities. 

Facebook is only next to YouTube as the most popular social media platform among Filipino netizens.

“They will be uploading YouTube videos that spread disinformation, change the narrative, and show ‘alternate realities’. That’s something we will see,” Caritos said. 

Namfrel’s Alvia said even short video formats, like those on TikTok and Instagram, would likely be used in online campaigning to boost engagement and recall.

He said the 2022 campaign might particularly see a lot of discourse on Covid-19-related assistance from politicians, including, but not limited to, social amelioration, access to vaccines, and livelihood support.

“Social media is more accessible to a lot of people and the content is easier to digest but not necessarily correct,” Alvia said. “Kanya-kanyang version ng katotohanan (People will be coming in with various stories of their own).” #

Facebook removes fake accounts linked to PNP and AFP

Fake social media accounts meant to mislead Filipinos and supportive of President Rodrigo Duterte are linked to the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Facebook revealed.

In an announcement Tuesday, September 22, Facebook Head of Security Policy Nathaniel Gleicher said the company removed accounts found to have links with both government agencies.

“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to Philippine military and Philippine police,” Facebook reported.

Gleicher said Facebook’s investigation found two separate networks originating from the Philippines and China that violate the company’s policy against “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

“We removed 155 accounts, 11 Pages, 9 Groups and 6 Instagram accounts for violating our policy against foreign or government interference which is coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign or government entity,” Gleicher said.  

In the Philippines, Facebook removed 57 fake Facebook accounts, 31 Pages and 20 Instagram accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers.

Gleicher explained the people behind the activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts as a central part of their operations to mislead people about who they are and what they are doing.

He said that Facebook found the full scope of the activity after civil society in the country and news organization Rappler brought it to the company’s attention.

In support of the Dutertes

Facebook said that the networks focused on posting content supportive of Duterte and her daughter and Davao City mayor Sara Carpio’s potential run in the 2022 Presidential elections.

(Malacanan photo)

They also posted in Chinese, Filipino and English about global news and current events, including Beijing’s interests in the South China Sea and Hong Kong.

The fake accounts also uploaded criticisms of Rappler, issues relevant to overseas Filipino workers as well as praise and some criticism of China.

The network in the Philippines consisted of several clusters of connected activity that relied on fake accounts to evade enforcement, post content, comment and manage pages, Facebook reported.

The operation appeared to have accelerated between 2019 and 2020, the company said.

“They posted in Filipino and English about local news and events including domestic politics, military activities against terrorism, pending anti-terrorism bill, criticism of communism, youth activists and opposition, the Communist Party of the Philippines and its military wing the New People’s Army, and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines,” Gleicher said.  

The accounts spend around $1,100 for ads on Facebook that are paid for in Philippine peso, he added.

A post by one of the removed fake accounts. (Taken from the Facebook announcement)

How much are the PNP and AFP spending?

Human rights group Karapatan welcomed Facebook’s move it said is “a damning evidence of State-sponsored online attacks, red-tagging and mass deception in the social media platform.”

“We welcome Facebook’s move as urgently-needed action to put a halt on the worsening red-tagging and State-backed disinformation campaigns on the platform and we hope that Facebook can do more,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

Karapatan said it was among the organizations that complained to Facebook and the Commission on Human Rights through a June 9 letter.

The group said that the more pressing question, however, is whether taxpayers’ money was used to fund the fake Facebook accounts.

Karapatan said the substantial amount reported by Facebook is wasted on the Duterte government’s efforts to spread disinformation as well as undermine and vilify dissent.

“We are in the middle of a pandemic and instead, the investigation conducted by Facebook highly suggests that the government is spending our taxes to weaponize social media to spread lies online and to attack its critics — and the actual amount of money they have spent and pocketed can be much, much higher,” Palabay said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Pahayag ng UP-Diliman Student Council hinggil sa mga fake account sa social media

Kinondena ng University of the Philippines-Diliman University Student Council hinggil ang dumaraming fake account sa Facebook laban sa mga aktibista at mga tumututol sa Anti-Terrorism Bill na ipinasa ng Kongreso noong nakaraang linggo.

Ani UP-USC Councilor Froilan Cariaga, ang mga fake account ay isang patunay na ibayong tititindi ang panggigipit sa mga kritiko ng gubyerno kapag ganap na naging batas ang Anti-Terrorism Bill of 2020. # (Bidyo ni Joseph Cuevas)

Fake pro-Duterte Facebook pages taken down

Facebook took down about 200 pages and accounts pro-Duterte Instagram and Facebook accounts organized by his social media manager in his 2016 campaign, Nic Gabunada last Friday, March 29, for their proliferation of fake accounts.

“[These] frequently posted about local and political news, including topics like the upcoming elections, candidate updates and views, alleged misconduct of political opponents, and controversial events that were purported to occur during previous administrations. Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found that this activity was linked to a network organized by Nic Gabunada,” Facebook said.

Cartoon by Mark Suva/Kodao

On the Disinformation and Harassment Against ‘Tu Pug Imatuy’

By the Concerned Artists of the Philippines

We condemn the uploading of black propaganda against the film Tu Pug Imatuy (2017), directed by Arnel Barbarona who is a member of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines.

Set in Mindanao, Tu Pug Imatuy (The Right to Kill) revolves around the story of Manobo couple caught amidst anti-insurgency operations by the Philippine military in a community targetted for mining operations, inspired by a lumad’s actual account of similar events in the region. A notable work of independent, regional, and progressive cinema, the acclaimed film recently completed a series of screenings since its premiere and successive wins at the Sinag Maynila 2017 Film Festival, the Gawad Urian, and the Famas awards.

On September 21, an anonymously-produced video was uploaded and shared via Facebook. It branded Tu Puy Imatuy as a “deceptive indie film” full of untruths and with ties to the CPP-NDF-NPA. The video used film clips, obviously without permission from the filmmaker. It was flagged but continues to be uploaded across other fake news sites. Barbarona also noted a recent incident that points to the possibility of him being surveilled.

The release of such black propaganda is an assault on freedom of expression and the freedom of the artist to critique, reflect or respond to social realities. This sends the message that artistic and creative works that contradict the narrative of the Duterte administration can and will be attacked with impunity.

These acts of vilification on social media happen at a time when alarmist spectres are peddled to discredit criticism of the current economic crisis and political repression in the Philippines. These are no different from the Palace’s and the military’s singling out of critics or advocates from other sectors as “terrorists” and targets for harassment or worse. The Presidential Communications Operations Office, through Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson, promotes the spread of dangerous disinformation. For, for instance, it interviewed supposed lumad leaders who want the peace talks scrapped and condemn alleged CPP-NPA killings of “legitimate” leaders—claims that are strongly contested by people’s organizations on the ground.

These cases of red baiting and surveillance are a dangerous throwback to the repression and proliferation of lies, rife during the Marcos dictatorship. Let us not not wait for these to escalate into full-blown harassment of artists and cultural workers or for such black propaganda to become normalized. We call upon our colleagues in the film industry to speak up against the incident and the wider phenomenon of McCarthyist red-baiting of dissent.

Stop the attacks on artists and cultural workers.
Stop the attacks on lumad and indigenous peoples communities.
Stop the attacks on the Filipino people.

Nato on trolls: ‘Let us not allow them to win’

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. is pushing back hard against online bashers he believes are “Duterte-Marcos trolls,” adding he has already consulted lawyers for appropriate legal action.

“I decry the orchestrated online slander campaign instigated by Duterte-Marcos trolls against me and the broad United People’s SONA,” Reyes told Kodao.

Reyes cited lies and a death threat posted online by bashers who also accused him of profiting from protest actions he helped organize.

He said the trolls altered photos of the huge SONA rally against President Rodrigo Duterte’s planned Charter change to make it appear as a pro-Duterte rally.

“Then, several accounts posted false and slanderous accounts about me concerning alleged purchases that I never made,” he said.

The post’s originator, a certain Gabriel Ilano, claimed he was asked by Reyes to “mark up” the declared price of a projector machine.

Ilano’s Facebook account since been deactivated after Reyes reposted Ilano’s accusation on his own account.

“However, [Ilano’s] false claims continue to make the rounds of Duterte sites. As a result I have received an online death threat from one Carl Espiritu,” Reyes said.

“Nagmamalinis kang animal ka! Kawatan ka pa rin palang hinayupak ka! Dapat bala ibaon sa ulo mo!” Espiritu wrote. (You want people to believe you are upright when you are corrupt yourself. You deserve a bullet to the head!)

Espiritu’s wife has called Reyes to apologize and explain that her husband is suffering from depression.

“I have already informed my lawyers and they are studying the appropriate legal action against Ilano, Espiritu and others who are spreading false claims,” Reyes said.

The leader said that two others have already contacted him to apologize, including a 23-year old woman who falsely claimed she was Reyes’s high school classmate who dropped out of school as he was already earning from organizing rallies.

Reyes graduated from Lourdes School of Quezon City and was his class’s Citizen’s Army Training Corps Commander and student publication editor in his senior year. He went on to attend the University of the Philippines in Diliman where he was also a student leader.

Earlier this year, Reyes’ 10-year old son was also accused by bashers of crashing a sports car into an electrical post.

“The end goal of the trolls is to stop critical discussion by hijacking the discourse. Let us not allow them to win,” Reyes said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

 

Group assails FB for taking down accounts critical of Duterte

An arts and media group has slammed social media platform Facebook for taking down accounts of Duterte critics Mae “Juana Change” Paner and the popular Pinoy Ako Blog (PAB) creator Jover Laurio.

The Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI), itself critical of attacks on press freedom and freedom of expression under the Rodrigo Duterte government, today assailed Facebook for the move against Paner and Laurio, two well-known critics of President Duterte.

“We demand that Facebook immediately and unconditionally restore Mae’s account,” veteran journalist and LODI convenor Inday Espina Varona said.

Mae’s takedown followed a similar action last week against Jover, LODI in a statement said.

It took two days of “bombardment” by Laurio and many supporters to restore her account.

“We call on Facebook to stop being complicit in the silencing of President Duterte’s critics,” Varona said.

She noted that Mae’s posts in the last few days have been largely on #BabaeAko , a campaign against President Rodrigo Duterte’s misogyny.

“This is not the first time Facebook has taken down accounts of activists and politically-involved Filipinos, and Facebook Pages maintained by activist organizations and campaigns. Facebook has also been censoring content, as we saw in the taking down of posts critical of the Marcoses,” Varona said.

“Facebook recently announced that it would take steps to combat the proliferation of Fake News. But what has been more pronounced, as in the case of Mae and the others, is that it is wittingly or unwittingly helping silence voices exposing and fighting Fake News,” she added.

Facebook’s ‘dangerous’ Real Name policy

Another LODI convenor, newspaper columnist Tonyo Cruz, in the statement said that the implementation of Facebook’s Real Name policy is apparently doing more harm than good especially in the Philippines.

“Many activists and campaigners in other countries ruled by dictatorships have long asked Facebook not to deny citizens the right to use pseudonyms which prove important in protecting dissenters,” said Cruz.

“I didn’t expect that we’d need it in 2018, but there sure are legitimate reasons for many Filipinos to use pseudonyms amid Duterte’s rising tyranny,” Cruz added.

Cruz said the application of the Real Name policy on Paner could not have been a result of due diligence or even the most basic investigations.

“A simple Google search about Mae Paner would lead Facebook officers and staff to plenty of stories, images and videos about her, including links to her Facebook account,” Cruz said.

Cruz added that Facebook should also check reports that the takedowns of the accounts of Mae and Laurio are a result of “mass reporting” by Duterte supporters.

“If this is true, Facebook should take steps against those who game its reporting system. There are lots of accounts that spread Fake News and hate speech that should be taken down. Accounts of activists should be spared and protected,” Cruz said.

Paner is among LODI’s co-founders and co-convenors. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)