Facebook shuts down hundreds of fake accounts backing Duterte, Beijing

About 300 fake Facebook accounts were run by two networks in China and the Philippines.
About 300 fake Facebook accounts were run by two networks in China and the Philippines.PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA - About 300 fake Facebook accounts, which were run by two networks in China and the Philippines and sought to burnish the reputations of President Rodrigo Duterte and Beijing, have been removed, said Facebook on Wednesday (Sept 23).

The Chinese network, comprising 155 Facebook accounts, 11 Facebook pages, nine Facebook groups and six Instagram accounts, praised Beijing's actions in the South China Sea, backed a presidential run for Mr Duterte's daughter - Davao City Mayor Sarah Duterte-Carpio - and attacked an online news site that had been critical of Mr Duterte's policies.

It also posted content supportive of both sides of the US election.

The Philippine network of 57 Facebook accounts, 31 Facebook pages and 20 Instagram accounts was linked to Philippine security forces and targeted left-leaning groups.

Facebook cyber security policy chief Nathaniel Gleicher said the two networks were shut down for violating Facebook's policy on "coordinated inauthentic behaviour".

"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're doing," he said.

Facebook said the accounts in China, with posts in Filipino, English and Chinese, assailed United States' naval exercises in the South China Sea, spread Mr Duterte's comments favouring China, and praised China's crackdown of protests in Hong Kong.

Many of the accounts were linked to users in China's Fujian province. These were able to lure at least 133,000 followers, while the 20 Facebook groups and pages drew in some 61,000 members.

This network also sought to push Ms Duterte-Carpio to run for president in 2022.

 
 

Ms Duterte-Carpio led a political coalition that nearly swept the Senate race two years ago.

That was seen as a dry run for her own bid to succeed her father, although political parties under her coalition have been pushing for their own candidates.

But her father's endorsement would likely compel these parties to rally around Ms Duterte-Carpio against her possible main rival, Vice-President Leni Robredo, who heads the opposition.

The Philippine network, which had some 276,000 followers, was found to have originated from units of the police and the military.

These were said to have engaged in "red-baiting" - tagging progressive groups, politicians, lawyers, journalists, priests, academics and students as part of a communist plot to overthrow the government.

At least 300 activists who were tagged as communist sympathisers have been killed since Mr Duterte became president in 2016, in what civil rights advocates have slammed as a campaign to shut down dissent and criticism of Mr Duterte's bloody drug war and human rights record.

Even the international humanitarian organisation Oxfam had been identified as a suspected financier of communist groups.

 
 

In a statement on Wednesday, Major-General Edgard Arvelao denied that the military was behind this network of fake accounts.

He said all of the military's accounts on the social media platform "are up and running".