Harvested Facebook data 'used to elect Duterte'

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's political party was known to have hired hired strategists who helped him transform his modest online presence, creating an army of Facebook personalities and bloggers worldwide.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's political party was known to have hired hired strategists who helped him transform his modest online presence, creating an army of Facebook personalities and bloggers worldwide.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - The British consulting firm at the centre of a data mining scandal linked to the 2016 United States presidential race harvested information of about 1.2 million Facebook users in the Philippines, purportedly to help elect Mr Rodrigo Duterte to the presidency, according to media reports.

A post written last week by Facebook chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer said the data of 1,175,870 Filipino users may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica.

The political consultancy hired by the Trump campaign is accused of siphoning information on 87 million Facebook users and using it to target political messages.

Outside the United States, the Philippines saw the most number of Facebook users with their data going to Cambridge Analytica.

The South China Morning Post reported that the consultancy's parent firm, Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL), boasted on its website that it helped get Mr Duterte elected by rebranding him from being "kind and honourable" to a tough crime fighter.

"In the run-up to the national elections, the incumbent client was widely perceived as both kind and honourable, qualities his campaign team thought were potentially election-winning," SCL said in a post that it had since removed from its website.

"But SCL's research showed that many groups within the electorate were more likely to be swayed by qualities such as toughness and decisiveness."

"SCL used the cross-cutting issue of crime to rebrand the client as a strong, no-nonsense man of action, who would appeal to the true values of the voters."

Mr Duterte beat four other candidates, largely on a promise to rid the Philippines of crime and corruption, and on an image as a straight-shooting, man-of-the-people who transformed his once crime-infested city into one of the nation's safest through a brutal response to criminals.

A 2015 photo of two of Mr Duterte's key campaign officials dining with Mr Alexander Nix, who at the time ran Cambridge Analytica, had also surfaced.

Cambridge Analytica suspended Mr Nix last month after a television broadcast in which he was recorded suggesting his outfit had used seduction and bribery to entrap politicians and influence foreign elections.

Mr Nix had spend much of the past year making bold claims about the role Cambridge Analytica played in the election of Mr Trump.

The two officials from Mr Duterte's campaign denied on Monday (April 9) having had business dealings with Mr Nix.

One of them, Mr Jose Gabriel La Vina, who was Mr Duterte's social media director, told the online news site Rappler that while he recalled meeting Mr Nix at a forum organised by the National Press Club, "we couldn't afford a consultant like him".

"What I recall was they were presenting him to the media in the hope of getting clients," he said.

But Mr La Vina admitted that Mr Nix's presentation during the forum "influenced my work".

"I picked up on the idea of elections being driven by emotions, and also that was what was happening on the Facebook battlefield," he told Rappler.

Mr Joel Egco, a former journalist who is now under-secretary at the Presidential Communications Operations Office, was also in the photo.

He told The Straits Times that while he saw Mr Nix exchange pleasantries with Mr La Vina and his cousin, Mr Peter La Vina, who was then Mr Duterte's campaign spokesman, the three hardly talked.

"Nix was a nobody. No one was paying much attention to him," said Mr Egco.

Mr Duterte's political party was known to have hired strategists who helped him transform his modest online presence, creating an army of Facebook personalities and bloggers worldwide.

His large base of followers - enthusiastic and often vicious - was sometimes called the Duterte Die-Hard Supporters, or simply DDS.

They targeted about 44 million Filipinos who were online, with nine in 10 having Facebook accounts, mostly through their smartphones.

An Internet security consultant said the Facebook data culled by Cambridge Analytica "could've told the Duterte campaign exactly whether they were winning or losing".