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Timeline: What Prompted Duterte’s Threat to Stop Facebook PH?

On Monday, September 28, Duterte threatened to shut down Facebook in the Philippines.

In his pre-recorded press briefing and address last night, September 28, President Rodrigo Duterte said that he was questioning why Facebook was still allowed to operate in the Philippines. The reason behind this is that according to the President, the social media giant is taking away people’s freedom of speech whenever they take down accounts and pages that go against their community standards.

“It’s so convoluted, I cannot understand. But put it this way: Tell me why can’t I use [Facebook] for the benefit of the people? If (the) government cannot use it for the good of the people, then we have to talk. We have to talk sense,” Duterte said. This statement comes after several “advocacy” pages, accounts, and groups said to be owned by the Philippines police and army were taken down last week due to “inauthentic behavior.” (Read: 5 Social Media Personalities You Should Be Following)

“Even the advocacy of government was removed.  So what’s the purpose of you being here?” Duterte added. “Facebook, listen to me: We allow you to operate here hoping that you could help us also. Now, if (the) government cannot espouse or advocate something which is for the good of the people, then what is your purpose here in my country?”

How did it come to this point that the Philippine government is threatening to shut down a social media platform and restrict its use in the country? My Pope looks into the events that led up to this incident!

Photo from Reuters / TRT World

April 2018

  • Facebook blocked pro-Duterte websites that were peddling “fake news,” which went against Facebook’s community standards and fact-checking efforts.
  • One of the websites blocked was du30newsinfo.com.

October 2018

  • Facebook removed 95 pages and 36 accounts that were exhibiting questionable behavior and spam activity.
  • Several of the pages taken down were “Duterte Media,” “Duterte sa Pagbabago Bukas,” “DDS,” “Duterte Phenomenon,” and “DU30 Trending News.” All pages mentioned were sharing links that direct users to websites outside of Facebook. These websites were “low quality” and are full of advertisements.
  • A page by the supporter of then-Ilocos Norte Governor and known Duterte ally Imee Marcos was also taken down.

January 2019

  • Facebook shut down over 200 pages owned by a digital marketing company for violating its spam and misrepresentation policies.
  • The pages were said to have been selling admin rights for their Facebook pages, essentially generating a profit and going against the social network’s policies.

March 2019

  • Facebook deletes around 200 pages, accounts, groups, and Instagram accounts that were associated with Nic Gabunada—President Duterte’s 2016 presidential campaign social media strategist.
  • The groups and pages were mostly related to politics and some members were using fake accounts. But Nathaniel Gleicher, head of Facebook’s cybersecurity, clarifies that the pages and accounts were not taken down due to the political posts—the activities were just inauthentic and questionable.
  • Nic Gabunada denied his involvement with the said accounts and said he was surprised that his name was dragged into the issue.

June 2020

  • Fake and ‘ghost’ accounts were created using the names of students and student-activists from different colleges and universities in the country.
  • Facebook took down the majority of the accounts which many believe were to be used for red-tagging propaganda. Facebook Philippines even tapped their US and Ireland offices to help with the issue.
  • In the same month, posts regarding the Anti-Terror Bill and those using the hashtag “#JunkTerrorBill” were reported as spam. Facebook said it was just an error in their system and all posts wrongly reported were unflagged.

September 2020

  • Facebook took down fake accounts that are based in China for posting about the 2020 US Elections. The accounts also posted about the West Philippine Sea dispute, the Hong Kong protests, and President Duterte himself.
  • A few days after deleting the China-based accounts, Facebook also took down more than 100 accounts and groups that were linked to the Philippine police and army. The pages and accounts also displayed “inauthentic behavior,” according to their cybersecurity team.

niel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook. (Photo from Radio Free Europe)

The Facebook team is yet to comment on the President’s threat.

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