In­au­then­tic

The Freeman - - Opinion -

Fi­nally this week, the so­cial me­dia gi­ant Face­book has started to get rid of pages tar­get­ing au­di­ences in the Philip­pines which it deemed were en­gaged in co­or­di­nated in­au­then­tic be­hav­ior. I have been writ­ing on is­sues sur­round­ing on­line so­cial net­works and in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, and the op­por­tu­nity pre­sented it­self again this week.

I ap­plaud Face­book for its re­cent ac­tions. I hope it con­tin­ues to in­vest in both tech­nol­ogy and hu­man re­source to fully ap­ply its com­mu­nity stan­dards against so many bad el­e­ments who are tak­ing ad­van­tage of its plat­form. The com­pany can af­ford to in­vest more on this cam­paign. I call it an in­vest­ment be­cause a com­pany that cares for its fu­ture growth and sur­vival should fo­cus on long-term value cre­ation. And long-term value cre­ation is based not just on ex­per­tise and in­no­va­tion but also, in a larger part, based on cor­po­rate so­cial val­ues and busi­ness ethics.

Forbes magazine re­ported on Tues­day that Face­book shut down 155 fake ac­counts it de­ter­mined were run from China, in­clud­ing ac­counts post­ing about the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. In South­east Asia, Face­book iden­ti­fied over a hun­dred ac­counts and pages with con­tent sup­port­ive of Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte and his daugh­ter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, who is con­sid­ered a po­ten­tial can­di­date in the 2022 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Many of these fake ac­counts and pages were traced to in­di­vid­u­als and troll farms in China’s Fu­jian province.

Fol­low­ing its crack­down on these so­cial me­dia ac­counts and pages, Face­book clar­i­fied that it is not af­ter the sup­pres­sion of free speech in its plat­form. It, in fact, has a spe­cific def­i­ni­tion of “bad el­e­ments” in so­cial me­dia. Ac­cord­ing to Face­book, in the case of ac­counts and pages tar­get­ing Philip­pine au­di­ences, these are con­nected to two sep­a­rate net­works, one orig­i­nat­ing in China and the other one in the Philip­pines.

“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,” said Face­book’s head of se­cu­rity pol­icy, Nathaniel Gle­icher, “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.”

These “sev­eral clus­ters of con­nected ac­tiv­ity” re­lied on fake ac­counts to pose as lo­cals in coun­tries they tar­geted, post in groups, am­plify their own con­tent, man­age pages, like and com­ment on other peo­ple’s posts, said Gle­icher.

Shame­fully, a num­ber of these clus­ters are linked to the Philip­pine mil­i­tary and po­lice es­tab­lish­ment. The AFP and PNP have de­nied any di­rect in­volve­ment, but they also de­fended the ex­is­tence of these pages. Armed Forces chief of staff Gilbert Ga­pay asked Face­book last Wed­nes­day to re­store one of the pages that were taken down, the Hands Off Our Chil­dren page which, ac­cord­ing to Gen­eral Ga­pay in a Rap­pler re­port, is an “ad­vo­cacy group of par­ents whose chil­dren were miss­ing or had been re­cruited by the com­mu­nist ter­ror­ist groups.”

No one is try­ing to stop any­one for ex­press­ing their views or ad­vo­ca­cies us­ing on­line so­cial net­works. Face­book it­self stressed that it sup­ports free speech. What it bans is in­au­then­tic be­hav­ior by “peo­ple who mis­rep­re­sent them­selves on Face­book, use fake ac­counts, ar­ti­fi­cially boost the pop­u­lar­ity of con­tent, or en­gage in be­hav­iors de­signed to en­able other vi­o­la­tions un­der its Com­mu­nity Stan­dards.”

This pol­icy, ac­cord­ing to Face­book, is in­tended “to cre­ate a space where peo­ple can trust the peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ties they in­ter­act with.”

Some of the be­hav­iors or schemes which were ob­served in the now-banned pro-Duterte and pro-China ac­counts and pages are: use of mul­ti­ple Face­book ac­counts or shared ac­counts be­tween mul­ti­ple peo­ple; con­ceal­ing a page’s pur­pose by mis­lead­ing users about the own­er­ship or con­trol of that page; mis­lead­ing peo­ple or Face­book about the iden­tity, pur­pose, or ori­gin of the en­tity that they rep­re­sent; work­ing in con­cert to en­gage in in­au­then­tic be­hav­ior, where the use of fake ac­counts is cen­tral to the oper­a­tion; and en­gag­ing in for­eign or govern­ment in­ter­fer­ence con­ducted on be­half of a for­eign or govern­ment ac­tor.

We have been so fo­cused on fake news, hoaxes, and false con­tent posted by er­rant in­di­vid­u­als on so­cial me­dia these past few years. We for­got that there could be an or­ga­nized net­work of ac­tors who as early as 2015 have been ex­ploit­ing our vul­ner­a­bil­ity to co­or­di­nated dis­in­for­ma­tion and ma­nip­u­la­tion. Our so­ci­ety must now ur­gently ex­am­ine the strate­gies avail­able to counter these forces. Me­dia lit­er­acy ed­u­ca­tion is one.

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