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DU30 to FB: ‘Let’s talk’

MJ Blancaflor

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President Rodrigo Duterte has slammed and demanded a dialogue with Facebook executives after the social media giant shut down pro-administration and pro-military “advocacy” pages.

In his public address Monday night, the President did not mince words against Facebook, saying he sees no purpose to allow the operations of the media platform if it cannot help the government achieve its objectives.

“Facebook, listen to me. We allowed you to operate here, hoping that you could help us also. Now, if the government cannot espouse or advocate something which is good of the people, then what is your purpose here in my country?” Duterte said.

“If we cannot understand each other, Facebook, I really do not know. But my job is to protect government interest,” he added.

Last Tuesday, Facebook announced that it had taken down more than 100 pages linked to the Philippine military and police due to “coordinated inauthentic behavior” that violated its community standards.

It also shut down over 150 other pro-administration accounts supportive of President Duterte and the possible 2022 presidential bid of his daughter Sara, which are purportedly handled by individuals based overseas.

Facebook said these accounts, whose true owners were not fully disclosed, appear to have been part of a “systematic propaganda” against youth activists, members of opposition, as well as the Communist Party of the Philippines and its military wing, the New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

The Chief Executive, who heavily-utilized social media during his presidential campaign for 2016 polls, accused Facebook of favoring leftist groups by supposedly blocking the government’s counter-insurgency efforts.

The President also told Facebook executives that they cannot “lay down” a policy for his government.

“I allow you to operate here. You cannot bar or prevent me from espousing the objectives of government… Is there life after Facebook? I don’t know. But let’s talk,” he said.

“What would be the point of allowing you to continue if you cannot help us? We are not advocating mass destruction. We are not advocating massacre. It’s a fight of ideas,” Duterte added.

Censorship?
Duterte’s spokesperson Harry Roque clarified Tuesday that the President would not order to ban Facebook in the Philippines, even if the Palace official had called out the social media platform for its “censorship” of pro-government content.

“Maybe not. Discussions are needed. You know it is not good for both Facebook and the Philippines (if the ban pushes through),” Roque said in response to reporters’ queries.

But Roque chided Facebook for taking down pages and accounts which produce content in support of the administration.

Roque also said that the President was particularly “sensitive” on Facebook’s move to shut down the page “Hands Off Our Children,” whose advocacy is to prevent minors from being recruited into left-leaning groups.

“Do not infringe on the freedom of speech of personalities or pages of being in favor of the government. What happens is that pages against the government are not taken down, but if in support of the government, these are being taken down,” he said.

The Palace official also attacked Facebook’s third-party fact-checking program — an initiative to point out misleading or false information in the platform — claiming that anti-government media groups are part of it including Rappler and VERA Files.

These two separate companies have been involved in fact-checking since the 2016 presidential polls, a year that saw an escalation of disinformation in online platforms.

In 2017, these entities qualified as signatories of the International Fact-Checking Network’s code of principles, a set of principles adopted by the social media giant for its initiative.

Due to its role, Rappler and VERA Files have been subjected to constant threats of the administration and its supporters.

Roque also said the government is considering to tap fact-checkers who support the administration. Meanwhile, he encouraged pro-government groups to challenge Facebook’s move of shutting down select accounts before the courts.

In his speech, President Duterte also likened the social media platform to Pandora’s box, an artifact in Greek mythology which later became an idiom that means a source of unexpected troubles.

“Facebook is as wide as the universe. It can create uncouth content. It can create trouble. It has opened the Pandora’s box where all prostitution thinkable to man is exposed,” he said.

In 2018, Facebook also took down hundreds of pages — including pro-Duterte pages — that were found posting spam or irrelevant content.

Last March 2019, Facebook also revealed that over 200 Facebook accounts belong to a network managed by Nic Gabunada, Duterte’s social media strategist in his presidential bid four years ago. Gabunada also worked for then President Benigno Aquino III’s camp and broadcast giant ABS-CBN.

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