MANILA, Philippines – Facebook announced Friday, March 29, it had removed 200 pages and accounts organized by Nic Gabunada, President Rodrigo Duterte's social media manager in his 2016 campaign.
While Facebook conducts its own investigations, they also rely on outside help from the intelligence community, journalists and other technical experts. In the Gabunada case, US-based Graphika was tasked with an independent analysis of the takedown to provide more details and share insights. Graphika published its own findings shortly after Facebook published its blog post about the takedown on Friday.
These are the key details:
1) Pages were mostly created in 2017, and were mostly administered from the Philippines
The pages tended to be made in 2017 and were generally administered from the Philippines, though there were a few exceptions.
This was determined through a recent feature, "Info and Ads," which lets users see where Facebook page administrators are based. Some of the other countries found from which an administrator operated include Kuwait, Oman, Japan, Bulgaria, Saudi Arabia, and Hong Kong. Here's one screenshot of a page showing administrators based in Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong:
While most of the pages were created in 2017, the oldest page in the network was from May 2013. The most recent page was made on October 24, 2018.
"This set of accounts ranges widely in popularity, with the number of 'likes' per pages spanning from 3,318 to 457,624," said Graphika.
2) Pages had a strong pro-government focus, and spread pro-government content
Graphika's content analysis pointed to a "large majority of the content" shared by these pages being political in nature, though culture and sports news was also shared.
Their analysis found 46.2% of the pages shared content explicitly supporting Duterte, while the second most prevalently shared content were news articles positively framing the Duterte administration and the government. Here's a chart:
Pro-government content – content showing favorable coverage towards Duterte – included news bits with the President's response on a given news item, as well as posts promoting the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the rare conspiracy theory. Graphika noted an instance where Duterte was said as being quiet on the issue of vaccinations and natural medicine, "suggesting that he may be under pressure from the CIA (US Central Intelligence Agency)."
Graphika also said "pages in this set that actively supported past and present politicians other than President Duterte represent 12.3% of the total set." This includes:
- Sara Duterte
- Ferdinand Marcos
- Imee Marcos
- Bongbong Marcos
- Ronald dela Rosa
- Bong Go
All of them are aligned with Duterte's party or are otherwise generally supporting members of the Duterte or Marcos families.
Some 13.8% of the pages were related to pop culture instead, such as South Korean pop and soap operas.
3) Pages practiced targeted harassment, and spread conspiracies about Duterte’s opponents
The analysis said the accounts "were also used to target human rights activists and political opponents of President Duterte, such as Leila de Lima and Leni Robredo, the current Vice President."
The pages adapted messages and shared information based on unfolding poltiical news. Graphika said the messaging against opponents "took several forms, including:
- sharing criticism of President Duterte made by opponents;
- petitioning for opponents to resign or be removed from office;
- amplifying claims and conspiracies leveled against these opponents;
- discrediting opponents personally (on the basis of their character);
- spreading disinformation about opponents."
Here's one sample post, which showed a photoshopped picture of a woman on a wheelchair, bearing the face of Duterte critic De Lima.
The example given was that of building narratives, such as the false narrative that Vice President Robredo "is planning a coup or is devising a plan to destabilize the government enough for her to take control."
4) Page history shows repurposed pages
Using the page history feature on Facebook, Graphika determined some Facebook fan or support pages for Duterte were repurposed from other sorts of fan pages or were otherwise switched to fit a given need.
The example given in the analysis points to the "Duterte Daily Topics/ Philippine Daily Politics" page, which once was a support page for Senator Manny Pacquiao, but was also previously a support page for Duterte before being switched to a Pacquiao-leaning page.
The study adds some pages now focused on sports and pop culture were once political pages. These include fan pages for Korean singers and actors, as well as fan pages for athletes, such as Lebron James.
5) Content sources
One of the sites being shared most frequently across the set was topreader.online. Along with other sites, disregarding Facebook being shared, the 10 sites listed below crossposted content and promoted the same set of groups.