[OPINION] US Filipinos for Good Governance exposes Duterte-Marcos trolls on new tracker to fight against disinformation ahead of the May 9 elections

“TROLLS? Show me one, they don’t exist,” Bongbong Marcos repeatedly claims.

Well, he is lying and here is very solid concrete evidence that you can see with your own eyes. The Fil-Am group U.S. Filipinos for Good Governance (USFGG) exposes Duterte-Marcos trolls through the website TrollExposer.com.

According to USFGG, Troll Exposer is a new weapon in the arsenal against disinformation. Rather than focusing on content, Troll Exposer detects and publicly exposes the social media accounts that are spreading this harmful disinformation so everyone can see who these liars are.

Quoting the website:

“Part of this denial may be a misconception that trolls operate in large buildings similar to a call center. While that does happen, trolls are quite capable of doing their work remotely, and some of the trolls we’ve discovered appear to work remotely and are spread throughout the world. There is also the likelihood that foreign troll ‘farms’ are being used by some candidates, which would make it hard for them to find.”

How to spot a stealthy troll

Sometimes fake accounts and trolls are easy to identify. In some of our other investigations, we were able to quickly spot obvious fake accounts and obvious troll behavior. Spotting BBM trolls is more difficult, and that may explain his confidence in insisting that there aren’t any.

One of the difficulties in finding trolls is that they are hard to distinguish trolls from “super fans.” There are ardent fans that follow multiple Bongbong Marcos Facebook pages and groups, and share and comment on the posts there. For an authentic user, doing authentic social interaction, that activity would be mixed in with other day-to-day social interactions and interests, and would likely be sporadic, rather than appearing to be a full-time job.

In our analysis, we’ve looked at sharing and commenting behaviors, and whether we can classify trolls as distribution trolls (sharing from a source page to multiple destination pages), commenting trolls (enhancing the perceived popularity of a post by increasing its comments), and fake accounts dedicated to filling their profile posts with 100% pro-Marcos content.

We include anti-opponent content in the same category with pro-Marcos content. Very few accounts specialize in only positive or only negative messaging. The negative messaging usually involves insults to Leni Robredo’s intelligence, minimizing her accomplishments, criticizing the behavior of her supporters, accusing her of corruption, and fear-mongering about election tampering and what the country would be like under a Robredo presidency.

Political cartoons with these themes are commonly shared on pages and accounts that are pro-BBM.

We’ve noticed a targeted effort to “red-tag” Leni Robredo as a communist terrorist. This has grown out of a Duterte-era red-tagging effort overseen by the Strategic Communications Cluster of the NTF ELCAC. The entire troll network is dedicated to attacking Leni Robredo and Maria Ressa, founder of the news site Rappler and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. We have issued a separate report on this troll network: state-sponsored red-tagging of Leni Robredo on Facebook.

We recognize that there is a level of this activity that is normal for a Marcos supporter. So, when we identify a troll, we take a wholistic view. We look at the authenticity of the account, any troll-like behaviors of the account, and evidence of coordination with other accounts to spread propaganda.

First, we look for evidence that the account isn’t authentic. If the account is a troll, there is often some evidence that the account is fake, i.e. lack of full facial photos and About information that could be used for identification. Trolls generally want to stay anonymous and so don’t reveal information that could tie the troll activity to the actual person performing it.

“Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior” is prohibited on Facebook. Frequently this means fake accounts using automation and acting together on posts as soon as they are posted. It is possible for authentic accounts to participate in coordinated inauthentic behavior. For example a volunteer could use their own Facebook account to perform coordinated troll activities.

Secondly, we look for excessive troll behaviors. Sharing a few posts to your page is normal. Sharing them multiple times in a row, sharing a dozen per day, or sharing hundreds is not. Sharing hundreds of posts to other pages without sharing any to your own is also not normal authentic behavior. Commenting on a post with an authentic opinion expressed in words is normal. Commenting 10 times in a row on the same post is not. Commenting on posts with a propaganda image or a simple phrase like “solid BBM” or only slightly varied, i.e. “SOLID BBM” can be authentic if not done to excess.

Our findings

The BBM social media presence is vast and has been created over more than six years (it started before his vice presidential bid in 2016). Our analysis covers a sample of the BBM-dedicated Facebook pages and groups. It cannot be considered complete. We firmly believe that there are more BBM trolls than those we are exposing here.

Our analysis is based on public information. We did not examine or infiltrate private groups or private posts. This limits our ability to detect overt coordination which may be happening in private groups. Still, a troll’s job is to make sure people see the propaganda they are in charge of spreading, so not being able to view private activity does not prevent us from identifying trolls. People can keep all their Facebook activity private if they choose, and those people are not likely to be trolls.

Today we expose 100 BBM trolls. In our interactive BBM troll network report, we list each of the trolls and provide our analysis on why we identify them as trolls, and a link to their Facebook profile so that you can see for yourself. You don’t need to take our word for it.“

According to USFGG, Marcos’ trolls are sophisticated in comparison to the other trolls we’ve found in this election. Their accounts very often look and may be authentic.

There are three types of troll activity: distribution, commenting, and filling up profiles and pages with Marcos content. Some trolls shared hundreds of Marcos posts to their own pages, making their user profile posts look similar to a dedicated Marcos page.

Distribution (taking posts from one page and sharing them to multiple other pages) and commenting (frequently with a propaganda image or a short phrase) don’t show on an account’s profile, so spotting a Marcos troll without knowing what they have been doing on other pages is difficult.

Go to: www.TrollExposer.com. Click “explore Bongbong Marcos Trolls” and you can actually track these trolls. They are named. You see their posts.

One of the many disinformation campaigns using trolls is to red-tag Leni Robredo. This is the President and the National task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) publicly sponsored red-tagging that according to the website, has expanded its charter to include a massive effort to brand Leni Robredo as a communist traitor. You see the diagram with circles that reveal the network of trolls, their fake news posts. And taxpayers’ money is being used for this dirty political tactic to deceive you and dissuade you from voting for Leni. There are more. Check out the website.

REPORT them. They are toxic. They pollute our minds with toxic lies for money! They are traitors just like Marcos and Duterte in doing this. Report them and ask Facebook to shut down these accounts NOW!

FIGHT against disinformation peddled by Marcos and Duterte and their minions.

Soldier on for the Truth. Marcos and Duterte have been robbing us of the TRUTH and our right to important information that is important for us to make informed conscientious decisions.

Our sacred election is the bedrock of our democracy. Protect our democracy, our freedom, our right to have clean, honest, orderly and peaceful election that will reflect the true WILL of the Filipino people. Fight for our right to have “Gobyernong Tapat!” 

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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Gel Santos Relos has been in news, talk, public service and educational broadcasting since 1989. She was a news anchor, TV host and radio commentator and public service host for ABS- CBN and DZMM. She is now working on her advocacies independently, serving the Filipino audience using different  media platforms. You may contact her through email at [email protected], or send her a message via Facebook at Facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos. Also on Twitter, Instagram: Gel Santos Relos

Gel Santos Relos

Gel Santos Relos is the anchor of TFC’s “Balitang America.” Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are solely those of the author and not of Asian Journal and ABS-CBN-TFC. For comments, go to www.TheFil-AmPerspective.com and www.facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos

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