Facebook says it has deleted hundreds of organized fake accounts that interfered with the politics of the Philippines and the US, with ties to individuals in China and in the Philippines military.
The company said that all accounts were suspended for breaching its foreign or government intervention policy, which it describes as “coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign or government agency,” in two different networks centered in China and the Philippines.
Although the accounts had a marginal effect on US-targeted messages, hundreds of thousands of people were engaged in activities in the Philippines.
Facebook said that one network in the Philippines that focused on domestic politics was found to have ties to the military and police, and seemed to have intensified its operations between 2019 and 2020.
With posts in English and Filipino, about domestic politics, military anti-terrorism operations, and proposed legislation, criticism of communism, youth activists and opposition, the Communist Party of the Philippines and its military arm, and the Philippines National Democratic Front, about 280,000 individuals were reached.
The earliest example dating back to 2015 was the “red-tagging” of critics of the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, identifying opponents as terrorists or communists.
It comes in the midst of a spate of violent attacks on the country’s human rights defenders, including 13 members of the left-wing Karapatan party, just under Duterte’s word.
Before their deletion, the Digital Forensic Analysis Lab (DFRLab) of the Atlantic Council had access to some of the targeted accounts.
“The military and police, along with other government agencies, have for years been ‘red-tagging’ Karapatan,” said Human Rights Watch last month. “And the reality is that people who are ‘red-tagged’ are at heightened risk, including being targeted for killing.”
In its subset of accounts of ties to individuals in the military, including specifically the head of the army’s social media center, the RDFLab said it had found evidence.
Any links to the Facebook accounts were denied by the Philippine police and military. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said it was scheduled to meet on Wednesday afternoon with the Policy Head of Facebook Philippines.
In the case of AFP, there are no accounts operated by AFP that have been shut down or deleted by Facebook. All of them are up and running,’ says Marine Maj Gen Edgard Arevalo, AFP’s spokesman.
In order to camouflage their position, China-linked accounts, pages, and groups on Facebook and Instagram used virtual private networks to disseminate targeted content in Southeast Asia and particularly in the Philippines, where more than 130,000 followers tracked their posts.
Facebook’s move was “good news for those who have been threatened by state-sponsored misinformation,” said Sarah Elago, a Filipino lawmaker who had been targeted by a variety of these accounts, including doctoral photographs.
The Chinese, English, and Filipino posts focused on global news and current affairs, including the actions of China in the South China Sea and Hong Kong, content supportive of Duterte and the possible run in the 2022 election by his daughter, Sarah Duterte, Rappler’s critique, and some Chinese praise and critique.