TWELVE senators want an investigation into reports that public funds are oiling the operation of troll farms that spread fake news and misinformation on social media.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, and Senators Nancy Binay, Leila de Lima, Richard Gordon, Risa Hontiveros, Panfilo Lacson, Emmanuel Pacquiao, Francis Pangilinan, Grace Poe and Joel Villanueva signed Proposed Senate Resolution 768 asking the appropriate committee to conduct an inquiry on the alleged state-backed and state-funded spreaders of fake information that affect millions of Filipinos.
“Filipinos should know why government spends public funds on troll farm operators disguised as ‘public relations practitioners’ and ‘social media consultants’ who sow fake news rather than on Covid-19 assistance, health care, food security, jobs protection, education, among others,” reads the resolution.
Pangilinan, who is the most trolled senator now, stressed that misinformation and fake news do harm to the country grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Hindi natin pwedeng hayaang ginagamit ang pera ng taumbayan para manira at mang-harass ng mga taong pumupuna sa gobyerno. Masama ito sa demokrasya, lalo na sa papalapit na halalan sa susunod na taon (We must not let pass the use of taxpayers’ money to malign and harass people who are critical to the government. This is dangerous for democracy, especially that elections are upcoming next year),” he said.
Earlier, Lacson alleged that “a government undersecretary has been organizing internet troll farms across the country to target political rivals or those not aligned with President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.”
The Department of Finance also earlier awarded a P909,122 communications strategy consultancy contract to a public relations practitioner who was tagged by Facebook itself as the “operator behind a pro-Duterte fake account network which Facebook took down in March 2019.”
A social media troll is “someone who creates conflict on sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit by posting messages that are particularly controversial or inflammatory with the sole intent of provoking an emotional response from other users,” the resolution said.
The senators said the allegation should not be dismissed because of the Filipinos’ heavy use of social media sites such as Facebook, making them vulnerable to the trolls’ fake information.
Advertising firms We are Social and Hootsuite, in their 2020 annual report, found that Filipinos spend an average of four hours and 15 minutes each day on social media – topping the world rankings for the sixth straight year.
The Philippines is also highest in the world in internet usage with an average of 10 hours and 56 minutes.
“Pagsisinungaling ang trolling. Masama ito lalo na dahil sa darating na halalan. Kung mahalal ang bagong presidente at ibang opisyal dahil sa pekeng impormasyon, magkakaroon tayo ng pekeng presidente at opisyal (Trolling is lying. It is evil, especially that we have an upcoming election. If people elect a president and other officials because of the fake information spread by paid trolls, then similarly we will have a fake president and fake officials),” Pangilinan said.
“Dapat mag-invest sa totoong farms ng mga gulay at prutas, hindi sa troll farms (Invest in real farms of vegetables and fruits, not troll farms),” he added.