Facebook's control of Philippines online discourse models dystopian future


For many Filipinos, Facebook is their only way online because subsidies have kept it free to use on mobile phones since its launch in the country in 2013, while the open web is expensive to access. The social media network is believed to have been an important engine behind the ascent to the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte. Beginning in 2016, faked photographs and videos spread alongside false news targeting Senator Leila de Lima, a noted critic of Duterte and his violent war on drugs, and others who speak out. In 2017, after six months of this spreading conspiracy theories, de Lima was arrested and detained on drugs charges, which she vehemently disputes. Where US Facebook users direct their followers to third-party sites, all parts of Filipino misinformation campaigns live inside the site, where images, Facebook Live, and directly written posts are easier to share but harder to police. Two-thirds - 69 million people - of the Philippine population use Facebook; the remaining third has no internet access. Critics believe Facebook is, through inaction, complicit in the country's humanitarian crisis.

Duterte's use of Facebook has many parallels to US president Donald Trump's use of Twitter, with one exception: Duterte's online presence is masterminded by two key supporters, Pompee La ViƱa and Nic Gabunada, who built a pro-Duterte network on Facebook and easily translated Duterte's tone and message into highly shareable memes that incited anger, hope, and pride. By contrast, the stories reporters are struggling to tell of thousands of victims of Duterte's drug war, killed by vigilantes, death squads, and police, languish barely shared. More than a year after her arrest, de Lima remained imprisoned.


Writer: Davey Alba
Publication: BuzzFeed

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