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Facebook shuts down fake accounts linked to PH police, military and China

By Kara Santos Published Sep 23, 2020 12:00 am

Social media giant Facebook has shut down several accounts tied to Philippine state forces and China that were found spreading misinformation on local politics and critics of the Duterte administration.

In an official statement on Tuesday, Facebook's Head of Security Policy Nathaniel Gleicher announced that it removed two networks of accounts, pages and groups from its platform for violating its rules on “coordinated inauthentic behavior” on behalf of a foreign or government entity. 

According to Facebook, the network operating in the Philippines was linked to military and police accounts that "consisted of several clusters of connected activity that relied on fake accounts to evade enforcement, post content, comment and manage Pages." Gleicher added the operation accelerated between 2019 and 2020. 

The people behind the activity are believed to have 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.

According to the Head of Security, Facebook focuses on behavior rather than content when conducting investigations of this nature. 

One of the flagged posts identified "progressive groups" and red-tagged universities such as UP Clark Pampanga, Bulacan State University and Holy Angel Academy claiming these schools were “recriuitment basins of CPP NPA in Central Luzon.”

The social media company said the network posted in both English and Filipino about local news including topics on domestic politics, military activities against terrorism, the 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 further quantified the operation's social media presence at 57 Facebook accounts, 31 Facebook pages and 20 accounts on Instagram. 

"About 276,000 accounts followed one or more of these Pages and about 5,500 people followed one of more of these Instagram accounts," the Facebook's report shows. 

The investigation also revealed the networks spent around US$ 1,100 on Facebook ads. 

"Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to Philippine military and Philippine police," Gleicher said in the post announcing the takedowns.

"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," he added. 

In separate statements Wednesday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) disavowed the fake accounts shut down by Facebook, claiming their official social media accounts adhered to principles of truth and accountability. 

"We in the AFP are looking at that report by Facebook in removing certain accounts and posts in its platform...The AFP upholds truth and accountability of network and SocMed account managers as to the contents of postings in our websites, pages, and accounts," said AFP spokesperson Marine Major General Edgard Arevalo.

PNP spokesman Col. Ysmael Yu claimed that the official Facebook pages of the PNP and those of their lower units remain “compliant with institutional policies that promotes observance of cyber etiquette and proper decorum’ in all public engagements.

“Thus, 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,” Yu said in a statement to Philstar.

In an official statement Wednesday, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said they would leave the issue regarding the takedowns to the “sound judgment and discretion of the popular global social networking company.”

“However, we are one in advocating the truth and dismissing disinformation, lies or hatred. We hope the social media giant would exercise prudence in all its actions to remove any doubt of bias given its power, influence and reach.”

(Screenshot of sample posting via Facebook)