SOCIAL networking company FACEBOOK Inc. yesterday said it has removed a network of fake accounts that originated from China and the Philippines, and linked some of the accounts to the “Philippine military and Philippine police.”
It said the accounts were taken down for “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
The Armed Forces and the National Police denied any link to the accounts, some of which also reportedly posted content supporting President Duterte and the “potential” presidential run of his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, in 2022.
The Chinese embassy in Manila and Duterte’s daughter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Nathaniel Gleicher, cybersecurity policy chief of Facebook, in a statement, said the company removed two networks – one from China and one from the Philippines — for violating the policy against coordinated inauthentic behaviour.
“In each case, the people behind this 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, and that was the basis for our action. When we investigate and remove these operations, we focus on behavior rather than content, no matter who’s behind them, what they post, or whether they’re foreign or domestic,” he added.
Gleicher said 57 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.”
He said the posts in these sites originated from the Philippines, focused on domestic audience, and included posts about local news and events like politics.
He said the Facebook accounts or pages were followed by some 276,000 accounts while the Instagram accounts were followed by 5,500 people.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Gilbert Gapay said all social media accounts of the military were “up and running.”
“The use of social media and these social media accounts are governed by policies which we have also implemented since 2016 and this is being updated from time to time,” he said.
Gapay also Facebook’s announcement will prompt the military to look into the personal accounts of its personnel “and remind them of our policies and the etiquette, and the do’s and don’ts on what to post on social media,” he said.
Gapay said Facebook may be referring to personal accounts of soldiers who he said are allowed to use social media “as long as we follow the rules.”
PNP chief Gen. Camilo Cascolan said the PNP “continues to adhere to the institutional policies which observe cyber etiquette and proper decorum in all public engagements including social media.”
Cascolan aid the PNP recognizes social media as an effective tool in addressing concerns, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As far as we are concerned, official FB pages of the PNP and those in the lower units remain compliant with the standards and we continue to serve this purpose along this objective,” he said.
PNP spokesman Col. Ysmael Yu said “all comments and opinions of individual personnel, associations and sectoral groups on matters that are not related to the organization’s activities are hereby disowned by the PNP as unofficial and unauthorized.”
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said government will defer to the “sound judgment and discretion” of Facebook with regard to the takedowns.
But Roque said “we are one in advocating the truth and dismissing disinformation, lies or hatred.”
Gleicher said the network “consisted of several clusters of connected activity that relied on fake accounts to evade enforcement, post content, comment and manage pages.”
He said the activities of these accounts accelerated last year and this year.
“They posted primarily in Filipino and English about local news and events, including domestic politics, the military’s activity against terrorism, the draft of the pending anti-terrorism bill, criticism of communism, youth activists and the opposition, criticism of 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.
“We are attributing this network to the Philippine military and the Philippine police. In particular, we found links between, behind this network connected to both of these organizations and individuals associated with those organizations,” he added.
Facebook said the network of inauthentic Chinese accounts were interfering in Asian and American politics, including some that posted material supporting and opposing US President Donald Trump.
It said that of the 155 suspended accounts, the most widely followed accounts and pages were in the Philippines, where they shared content supporting China’s actions in the contested South China Sea and President Duterte.
The US accounts had fewer followers and posted content fueling both sides of the American election that will be held on Nov. 3 rather than exclusively supporting one side, the company said.
Gleicher said the takedown was the company’s first of Chinese-based accounts on foreign-interference grounds with any engagement in US politics. But he said the American accounts and groups seemed aimed mainly at building an audience.
“The volume of content is so low, it’s very hard to assess what their goal is,” Gleicher said.
Trump and his intelligence officials have said China was favoring Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond immediately to an email seeking comment.
The network of accounts, pages and groups used virtual private networks and other tools to make it appear they were operated from somewhere other than China, Facebook said.
Fewer than 3,000 people followed the fake American pages, while more than 100,000 accounts tracked those in Philippines.
The operation’s US assets, added between May and August, included a group called Biden Harris 2020 that had around 1,400 members and one called Trump KAG 2020 that said it supported Trump’s re-election and had just three members, according to analysis firm Graphika, which studied material from Facebook.
In Philippines, accounts supported both Duterte and his daughter, who might run to succeed him in 2022. They also criticized Rappler, an independent media group that is a frequent target of the Duterte government. — With Jocelyn Montemayor and Reuters