MANILA – Online, they have been brutally attacked. But out in the campaign trail, they have yet to come across a vicious critic.
And so opposition Otso Diretso senatorial bets believe there is a "deliberate effort" to use social media to distort their image as the campaign intensifies on the runup to the May elections.
Senatorial aspirants Jose Manuel "Chel" Diokno and Florin Hilbay noted Wednesday how their slate has been barraged online by criticism, including jokes about their physical appearance and supposed errors on Facebook and Twitter.
On the other hand, they have not faced such vitriol in the streets.
"Online napaka-ingay, sobrang polarized, napakabastos ng mga tao. Pero offline, it's the kind of Filipinos we respect na may respeto sa kapwa kahit na hindi nila kasundo sa politika," Hilbay said in a press conference at the slate's headquarters in Cubao, Quezon City.
(Online, it's so noisy, very polarized, and people are very rude. But offline, it's the kind of Filipinos we respect, Filipinos who respect others despite their political differences.)
"We don't get any kind of negative reaction when I go around unlike sa internet na may mga troll na sumusulpot-sulpot diyan (where trolls would pop up)," Diokno said.
"Sa pag-iikot namin, I cannot even remember one time na mayroong nagbigay ng ganung response na ayaw nila sa amin," he said.
(In making our rounds, I cannot remember one time that we met someone who gave a response that they don't like us.)
The contrast between how the opposition bets are received online and in the real world shows how the administration has "weaponized the internet," Diokno said.
"There is a deliberate effort to distort it (campaign reality) on social media," he said, referring to a University of Oxford study that showed President Rodrigo Duterte's camp spent about $200,000 or P10 million to hire a troll army.
According to the study published in 2017, the president's camp hired some 400 to 500 staffers to "spread propaganda for presidential candidate Duterte during the election" in May 2016 in a bid to "amplify messages in support of his policies." The tactic continued after Duterte won the presidency, the study said.
Some 200 Facebook accounts managed by Duterte's former campaign manager were recently disabled by the social media giant.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo earlier said Duterte was not aware of the fake accounts registered under Nic Gabunada and that public funds were not used to maintain those pages.
Hilbay lauded Facebook's efforts to shut down several Duterte-linked pages and accounts identified as "fake accounts [that] purports to represent a real person."
"Mayroong mga pattern na 'yung mga tinatanggal ng Facebook na mga pages ay pro-administration," he said.
(There is a pattern that the pages being removed by Facebook are pro-administration pages.)
"The manipulation of social media was done to create the appearance of popularity or ground support. We are happy na 'yung mga pages na ginagamit sa administration na ito, unti-unti nang tinatanggal," he said.
(We are happy that these pages used by the administration are gradually being taken down.)
The social media giant could have acted on the fake accounts earlier, Diokno said.
"Sa totoo lang, I feel kulang pa ang ginagawa ng Facebook," he said.
(To be honest, I feel that Facebook is not doing enough.)
"They should have taken measures way back in putting a stop to the weaponization of this," he said.