Philippines urges Facebook to close accounts used by Islamist fighters
MARAWI CITY: The Philippines’s army has called on Facebook to shut down dozens of accounts Islamist militants have been using to spread “misinformation” about their attack on a southern town and to co-ordinate their battle with security forces.
The military’s social media-monitoring team said it had identified 63 accounts under fake names it believed were being used by the Islamic State-allied Maute group and its sympathisers.
“They are spreading lies, they are spreading misinformation and they are creating more problems in our fight against the terrorists,” spokesperson Lieutenant- Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera said in Marawi, where at least 200 militants are still holed up 18 days after their attempt to capture the city.
Officials said 500 to 1 000 civilians were trapped in the area occupied by the fighters, which came under heavy aerial bombardment yesterday.
Some civilians were being held as human shields, while others hiding in their homes feared capture by the militants and had no running water, electricity or food, said Zia Alonto Adiong, a politician involved in evacuation efforts.
Facebook does not permit fake accounts and in recent months the company has launched several initiatives against fake news.
“Our Community Standards do not allow groups or people that engage in terrorist activity or posts that express support for terrorism,” a Facebook representative said.
“Fake accounts are also prohibited. We will remove accounts and content that violate these policies when we are made aware of them.”
One of the main Islamist factions dug in around the heart of the city is the Maute group, a relative newcomer on the insurgency-plagued island of Mindanao, which analysts say is more sophisticated and media-savvy than more established groups.
“Part of what we are looking at is radicalisation in social media. This is used to radicalise the youth,” Herrera said.
“We see massive misinformation and the use of social media to facilitate propaganda activities.”
The seizure of Marawi has alarmed south-east Asian nations, which fear Islamic State, which is facing setbacks in Syria and Iraq, is establishing a stronghold in Mindanao that could threaten the region.
About 40 foreigners have fought alongside the Filipino militants in Marawi, most of them from Indonesia and Malaysia, though some came from the Middle East.
The Philippines is largely Christian but Mindanao has a significant population of Muslims and Marawi is overwhelmingly Muslim.
Maute has joined forces with Isnilon Hapilon, who was proclaimed by Islamic State as its south-east Asia “emir” last year.
Military officials said they believed Hapilon and the two brothers who founded the Maute group were still in Marawi.
Officials said the army was chipping away at the territory held by the militants. The volume of fire coming from the rebel side had dropped.
However, the army had to proceed carefully because civilians were being held in mosques and madrasas, or religious schools, and the fighters had prepared for a long siege, stockpiling arms and food in tunnels and basements.
According to the latest official figures, 138 militants had been killed, with the death toll for security personnel and civilians at 40 and 20, respectively. – Reuters