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Critics Look To Use ‘Fake News’ Narrative To Undermine Duterte

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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The “fake news” narrative is spreading to the Philippines, targeting the country’s president.

Following several reports that President Rodrigo Duterte’s oversees an army of internet trolls tasked with churning out pro-Duterte propaganda, members of the Philippine Senate are calling for legislation to protect the public from false information, reports the Philippine Star.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, a critic of the president, filed Senate Resolution 259 Wednesday.

“The spread of false, erroneous, distorted, fabricated and/or misleading news and information by these social media trolls threatens the viability and credibility of online journalism, with internet users having few mechanisms to filter news sources,” the resolution read.

The resolution calls for a probe into fake news.

Trillanes argues that social media was a “game changer” in Duterte’s election last year.

Asserting that fake news is creating “fabricated realities,” the senator said that social media is becoming a platform for “political propaganda, deceit and manipulation.”

Duterte reportedly controls an “army of online trolls.”

Shortly after he decided to run for president in 2015, Duterte instructed marketing consultant Nic Gabunda to build a social media army consisting of leading online voices to spread pro-Duterte propaganda and attack critics.

Internet trolls can reportedly earn up to $2,000 a month. The new Senate resolution says that a troll is “someone who deliberately creates and/or foments discord and conflict on social media sites through the posting of controversial and inflammatory messages to provoke emotional responses from other internet users and take the focus away from the rational and meaningful discussion of the the subject at hand.”

Almost half of the Philippines’ 100 million citizens are active on social media and are prime targets.

Rappler, a Filipino news site, investigated online Duterte supporters and found fake news, fake accounts, bots, and trolls. Rappler editor Maria Ressa believes the Duterte administration may be using the online army to silence dissenters.

Social media analysts discovered that around 20 percent of pro-Duterte accounts were bots.

“The campaign helped change values and perceptions in our society and we’re watching it unfold,” Ressa explained.

“People do kind of admire [Duterte], but it’s been very much propped up by a lot of this noise online,” Sean Williams, who conducted a deep investigation of Duterte’s online army, told Public Radio International.

Since Duterte took office last summer, thousands have perished in a brutal shoot-to-kill war on drugs. Many of the deaths are believed to be the results of extrajudicial killings carried out by the police and vigilantes.

The drug war has received significant criticism abroad. Domestically, however, Duterte’s approval ratings remain high.

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