VERA FILES FACT CHECK YEARENDER: Propping up the Marcos image through disinformation

(Part 1 of 2) Over a year into President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s term, efforts to bolster a positive image of him were sown through disinformation.

From clickbait headlines of videos to patently false claims, the allegations that he fired several errant government officials, withdrew wealth from foreign countries or that the Maharlika Fund will collate national wealth and pay the country’s debts all seemed to prop up the president’s image.

In 2023, VERA Files Fact Check, in partnership with Meta’s Third-Party Fact-Checking Program, published 410 fact checks on online disinformation from Jan. 1 to Dec. 8.

Thirteen out of the 410 fact check articles involved claims that public officials were sacked during the Marcos administration. Of these, 11 carried headlines and thumbnails stating that Marcos Jr. ordered the firing, dismissal, or expulsion of congressmen, senators and a foreign ambassador.

“It’s a manufactured attempt to put a positive image of Marcos as a punisher just like [former president Rodrigo] Duterte,” Maria Elize Mendoza, an assistant professor at the University of Philippines Diliman (UPD) – Department of Political Science, told VERA Files Fact Check in a Dec. 11 interview.

Erroneous video headlines and thumbnail texts about Marcos dismissing people are “ways of bringing him to public attention,” Mendoza added.

“In simple terms, wala nga kasing masyadong ginagawa yung current administration so these vloggers, these headlines have to make it appear as if continuously may nangyayari,” she said.

(In simple terms, the current administration is not doing much so these headlines have to make it appear as if things are happening.)

Meanwhile, eight of the fact-checked claims alleged that the Marcos administration withdrew the Marcos family’s wealth from Brussels, Belgium, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, Japan and the World Bank. These claims appeared days after the president left for state visits.

Nagfa-function siya as reassurance to the already faithful. Sa aming pagta-track online, mas ganoon yung nakikita naming purpose nito, more of maintaining the [Marcos] loyalist base,” Miguel Paolo Reyes, a researcher from the UPD Third World Studies Center (TWSC), told VERA Files Fact Check in a Dec. 12 interview.

(It functions as a reassurance to the already faithful. Upon tracking online, we see its purpose more as an attempt to maintain the [Marcos] loyalist base.)

Vloggers also claimed that the Maharlika Investment Fund was being used to combine all the wealth of the Philippines, and that the country’s national debt was cleared because of the MIF. These are all false.

According to Joel Ariate Jr., also a researcher from the UPD TWSC, these claims target a certain demographic to bolster support for the president:

Ito ay may gamit kasi sa particular na segment ng population na pwede nilang ma-misinform. Importante [ito] sa pag-generate ng suporta sa presidente kahit na kung magkakaroon ka ng critical na reading, agad mo rin namang madidisprove,” Ariate said.

(This is useful for a particular segment of the population that can be misinformed. This is important to generate support for the president, even though it can be easily disproved through critical reading.)

How exactly did disinformation prop up the Marcos image? Read our deep dive here: VERA FILES FACT CHECK YEARENDER: How false narratives and clickbait fabricate Marcos’ image.