THE PRESIDENTIAL palace on Tuesday accused Facebook of censoring the government after it took down several social media accounts associated with the Philippine military and police.
The Facebook accounts were part of the government’s “advocacies,” presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque said, adding that the takedown was a form of censorship because the accounts were never tagged as purveyors of fake news.
“The point here is when something is in favor of the government, it’s being taken down,” he told an online news briefing in Filipino. “When it favors the opposition, it remains.”
“The President is clear about this: We need to discuss this and he does not condone censorship of pro-government advocacies,” he added.
The social media giant last week said several social media accounts belonging to two networks — one based in China and another with links to people associated with the Philippine military and police — violated its policies.
The company said it had removed pages, accounts, groups and Instagram profiles of the two unnamed networks, which were allegedly targeting the Philippines for “coordinated inauthentic behavior” or manipulation campaigns.
Fifty-seven Facebook accounts, 31 pages and 20 Instagram accounts, which constituted one network operating in the Philippines, were taken down, Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of Security Policy, said at an online news briefing from California.
The people behind the activities had tried to hide their identities, but a Facebook investigation found links to the Philippine military and police, Facebook said in a separate statement.
“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,” Facebook said in a statement on Sept. 22.
“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,” it added.
Facebook said it started the investigation after it was brought to its attention by Philippine civil society and news website Rappler.
The Philippine network had about 276,000 followers. About 5,500 people followed the related Instagram accounts.
The operation appeared to have accelerated between 2019 and 2020. The account owners posted in English and Filipino about local news and events including domestic politics, military activities against terrorism, a pending anti-terrorism bill, criticism of communism, youth activists and opposition, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its military wing the New People’s Army (NPA), and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), Facebook said.
Mr. Roque said the fact checkers tapped by Facebook, media outlets Rappler and Vera Files, are against the administration.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Monday night said he and Facebook have to talk because the social media network was interfering with state advocacies.
“You cannot lay down a policy for my government. I allow you to operate here. You cannot bar or prevent me from espousing the objectives of government,” he said.
“Nothing further to add to the Facebook newsroom announcement posted on Sept. 22,” Michelle Fojas, communications manager at Facebook Philippines, said in an e-mailed reply to questions.
“For Duterte, Facebook is only there to spread the vandalisms, outrage and fake news of Mocha and their trolls,” Senator Leila M. de Lima said in a statement in Filipino posted on the Senate website, referring to Duterte supporter Mocha Uson.
Facebook has taken down at least 100 networks globally to keep the platform safe from what it described as inauthentic and manipulative behaviors, fake accounts and other threats to its user base.
It has also banned several Philippine-based groups for spamming and misrepresentation amid criticisms that the social networking company had not done enough to stop online hate.
“We are making progress rooting out this abuse, but as we’ve said before, it’s an ongoing effort. We’re committed to continually improving to stay ahead,” the company said last week. — Gillian M. Cortez