Duterte tells Facebook: Explain your purpose in PH

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    President Rodrigo Duterte meeting with the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) core members. ROBINSON NIÑAL/ PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

    PRESIDENT Duterte on Monday night said he wants to talk to social media firm Facebook Inc. as he lashed out at its decision to take down “advocacy” and pro-government accounts and pages from its platform and retain those used by administration critics and detractors.

    The President, in his weekly public address, asked why Facebook should he allowed to continue operating in the country if it would not allow the government and its supporters to espouse advocacies that are for the Filipinos in general.

    Duterte said his government is not advocating mass destruction, massacre or killings.

    “This Facebook… from what I have learned in the past days that even the advocacies of government were removed… Facebook, listen to me. We allow you to operate here hoping that you could help us also. Now, if government cannot espouse or advocate something which is for the good of the people, then what is your purpose here in my country?” he said in mixed Filipino and English.

    The social media firm last week took down more than 100 Facebook and Instagram accounts, including those from the Philippines for allegedly engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior.

    Fifty-seven Facebook accounts, 31 pages and 20 Instagram accounts from the Philippines have been removed for “violating our policy against foreign or government interference which is coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign or government entity.” The accounts or pages were followed by some 276,000 other accounts while the Instagram accounts were followed by 5,500 persons.

    Facebook said the posts in these sites originated in the Philippines and focused on domestic audiences, and included posts about local news and events like politics, military activities against terrorism, the anti-terrorism bill when it was pending, criticism of communism, youth activists and opposition, and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army- National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

    The President also questioned Facebook’s supposed belief and being influenced by the “left.”

    “You know, Facebook, insurgency is about overturning government… And apparently from the drift of your statement or your position is that it cannot be used as a platform for any…

    It is so convoluted. I cannot understand it,” he added.

    Duterte said he wants to talk with Facebook to determine if it is really “promoting the cause of rebellion” which he said has been in the country even before the social media firm started its operations.

    He also warned Facebook against “laying down policy for his government,” claiming that the social media firm cannot prevent him and his administration from espousing the objectives of government.

    “Kung hindi tayo magkaintindihan diyan, mag-usap tayo ulit. Is there life after Facebook? I don’t know. Pero mag-usap tayo (If we cannot understand each other, we talk again. Is there life after Facebook? I don’t know. But we must talk),” he added.

    FAIRNESS

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the President is not threatening to shut down or ban Facebook in the country but merely asking them to talk.

    Roque said the President understood that Facebook is a private entity and it has its own regulations, but the country is aware that even the founder of the social media network recognized that his platform is already being used in propaganda instead of its original intent of being able to connect with friends and families.

    He said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has recognized that some form of regulation may now be needed.

    Facebook has been under fire in recent years for its lax approach to fake news reports, state-backed disinformation campaigns and violent content spread on its services, prompting calls for new regulations around the world.

    Following such criticism, Zuckerberg has said the company would prioritize “trustworthy” news in its feed by identifying high-quality outlets.

    Roque said many states are complaining against Facebook and all the Philippines is asking for is fairness and equal treatment.

    He said some are also questioning the alleged fact checkers that partnered with Facebook, claiming that some of them are actually critical of the government. He said the government may eventually hire its own fact checkers to level the playing field at Facebook.

    Roque also urged the administrators or owners of the accounts that had been taken down to go to the court and raise the legality of the actions on Facebook.

    “I encourage iyong mga grupo na pro-government pumunta po kayo sa hukuman at tingnan po natin kung ano ang magiging ruling ng ating hukuman (I encourage the pro-government groups to g to court and let’s see what the ruling of the court would be),” he said.

    DRIVE VS NPA

    The Armed Forces cited the importance of Facebook and other social media platforms in the campaign against the communist New People’s Army.

    AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo made the statement after President Duterte asked what is the point of allowing FB to continue if it cannot help the Filipino people.

    Last week, FB shut down scores of accounts linked with the Armed Forces for “coordinated inauthentic behavior, including that of the Hands Off Our Children, which is composed of parents whose children were recruited by the NPA.

    Also shut down was the personal account of Capt. Alexandre Cabales, who is the administrator of the HOOC’s FB page. Cabales is the head of the Social Media Center of the Army’s Civil Military Operations Regiment.

    “The AFP views Facebook and other socmed (social media) outfits as platforms to disseminate accurate information that would empower our people to see through the lies and reject terrorist organizations masquerading as pro-people,” said Arevalo, referring to members of the NPA.

    “FB could be the medium that will help consolidate people’s support to their armed forces as their true protectors and defenders of the state against its enemies,” he added.

    Arevalo said the Armed Forces supports President Duterte’s call for FB to sit down with government to “discuss with government how the Filipinos will benefit from the popularity of FB and its presence in the Philippines.”

    “It is also for this reason that we appealed to FB executives to look into the contents of the accounts of groups that have been taken down like Hands Off Our Children which is the aggregation of parents bound by the NPA’s deadly and deceptive recruitment of their children,” said Arevalo. — With Victor Reyes and Reuters