(Reuters) – Facebook Inc removed a social media network in the Philippines for the “coordinated authentic behaviour”, and took the unusual step of linking it to a businessman who said that he had managed the president’s online election campaign in 2016.
A photo illustration shows a Facebook logo displayed in someone’s eyes, in Zenica, March 13, 2015. REUTERS/dado Ruvic
Facebook said that its research showed that the online activity was linked to a network, organised by a former chief executive of Omnicom Media Group Philippines, which it identified as Nic Gabunada, and said that it had removed 200 pages of groups and accounts on Facebook and Instagram.
“The persons behind this activity uses a combination of authentic and fake accounts to spread content over different pages and groups”, Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of Cybersecurity Policy, said in a statement dated on Thursday.
“They regularly about the local and political news, including topics such as the upcoming election and candidate updates and views, alleged misconduct on the part of political opponents, and the controversial events that allegedly occur during the previous administrations,” he said.
Facebook said that it had taken the pages and accounts “on the basis of their behavior, not on the content that he / she is placed”.
Gabunada told ABS-CBN News that it was “unfortunate” that Facebook linked him to the questionable pages and accounts.
“If they have to take from my account, it is their privilege. On the other hand, they have to consider, I don’t do it because of what it is that they accuse me of,” Gabunada said.
In an interview with the news site Rappler in May 2016, shortly after President Rodrigo Duterte was chosen, Gabunada said that he had offered to help lead Duterte’s social media team during his campaign.
Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Assistant Secretary Ana Marie Banaag said Duterte has only one communication group, the PCOO, and Gabunada is not part of it.
Duterte, a former mayor from outside the political elite, tapped in to the social media to help him win the 2016 election by a large margin.
The Philippines is due to hold mid-term elections in May 2019 that will be seen as a referendum on Duterte administration.
At least one of the pages taken by Facebook was the name “Duterte Warriors”.
Another got the name “Bong Go Supporters”, referring to the supporters of the president’s long-time special assistant Christopher “Bong” Go, who is running for the Senate.
Studies have shown that the Philippines is on time has the world when it comes to the sending of sms-messages, the use of Facebook, and posting selfies.
Filipinos in 2017 spend an average of almost four hours per day on social media, more than any other country, according to a 2018-report by social media management companies, We Are Social and Hootsuite.
Reporting by Gaurika Juneja and Karen Lema; Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Rashmi Aich, Robert Birsel