A screenshot from a December 2018 video featuring Nathaniel Gleicher, head of Cybersecurity Policy for Facebook as he explains how the social media network defines coordinated inauthentic behavior.

FB links Duterte social media head to shady pages, groups

Facebook has taken down hundreds of pages, groups and accounts allegedly connected to Nic Gabunada, head of President Rodrigo Duterte’s social media campaign during his 2016 presidential bid.

In a press release dated March 28, Nathaniel Gleicher, head of Cybersecurity Policy for FB, said they removed “200 pages, groups and accounts on Facebook and Instagram” linked to a network which engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behavior” in the country.

According to Gleicher, a total of about 3.6 million accounts followed 67 FB pages in the network, while 1.8 million users joined at least one of the 40 FB groups and around 5,300 individuals followed 25 Instagram accounts.

More than three million pesos or around USD 59,000 were spent by this network for advertising on Facebook from Janauryy 2014 to March 2019. The amounts were paid in U.S. dollars, Saudi riyals and Philippine peso.

“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found that this activity was linked to a network organized by Nic Gabunada,” Gleicher noted.

Gabunada has not responded to our request for an interview, but an ABS-CBN report says the public relations practitioner “called the social media giant's move as ‘unfortunate’ and surprising.”

"If they will have to take down my account it’s their prerogative, on the other hand they have to consider I'm not doing it for the sake if whatever it is that they're accusing me of. I'm just one of those that shares and invited to join certain groups," the report quoted Gabunada as saying.

Facebook pages Bong Go Supporters, Duterte Warriors, Pinulungang Bisaya, Trending Now and Kuya Sonny Angara were among the 200 accounts removed by the social media network.

Duterte Warriors has been flagged repeatedly by VERA Files Fact Check as a top sharer of several misleading reports published by dubious websites. (See: Online post MISLEADS by recycling "most stupid politician" comment of Duterte vs Pangilinan and Website MISLEADS with old story on Pacquiao hospital)

In October 2018, Facebook removed 95 pages and 39 accounts in the country also for violating its “spam and authenticity” policies. In January, it banned from its platform Twinmark Media, a digital marketing company that also engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior, said Facebook.

Gleicher said their on-going internal investigation revealed that the latest network taken down was set up by individuals using both fake and authentic accounts. He emphasized that the organization removed the pages, groups and accounts due to their deceptive conduct and not “the content they posted.”

Facebook’s community standards give several examples of this behavior, which include “multiple accounts working together to mislead people in an attempt to encourage shares, likes or clicks” and misleading users “about the origin of content,” among others.

This conduct is listed as a form of misrepresentation and a violation of the organization’s integrity and authenticity rule which also includes “creating, managing or otherwise perpetuating accounts that are fake or have fake names.”

Gabunada headed the social media campaign of Duterte in 2016 using strategies that set the president apart from his opponents.

In an earlier interview with VERA Files, Gabunada said social media was a relatively less expensive way of wooing voters, when election campaigns rely heavily on placing political ads on traditional media and organizing sorties across the country.

Responding to accusations of abuse and bullying online during the 2016 elections, the Duterte supporter said he was aware of the shortcomings of their social media strategy. “Since this is a movement, you cannot control everybody,” he said.

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