Sunday, June 7, was no ordinary rest day for hundreds of Filipinos, especially students and teachers from the University of the Philippines (UP). These people had a busy day trying to block and report ghost Facebook accounts—profiles that had no posts, pictures, and friends—that bore their names.
Reports on these ghost accounts surfaced over the weekend when some UP students who were vocal on the Anti-Terrorism Bill found namesakes on blank Facebook profiles that had the same username pattern: [first name].[last name].[arbitrary number] (e.g. Juan.DelaCruz.123).
It was thought that only a few student-activists had ghost Facebook accounts made for them, but it became alarming when over a hundred more students and even professors found fake accounts under their names. (Read: What Will Happen If The Anti-Terrorism Bill Gets Signed Into Law?)
Several individuals reported that they received threats from their namesakes, and that these ghost accounts red-tagged them as ‘terrorists’ for being against the administration, the Anti-Terror Bill, and other issues that have arose in the past few weeks.
PUBLIC ADVISORY: UP has received reports that fake or dummy Facebook accounts have been created for UP students and alumni. We urge the members of the UP community to check their names and accounts and to make the proper report to the Data Protection Officer of Facebook. pic.twitter.com/TLIeLkwX2P
— University of the Philippines (@upsystem) June 7, 2020
In an official statement, the UP System said that the university’s Data Protection Officer has already contacted the Philippine National Privacy Commission regarding the matter. The UP Office of the Student Regent (UP-OSR) noted that these accounts surfaced following the #JunkTerrorBill protests held in different UP campuses.
The Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), De La Salle University (DLSU), University of the East (UE), and Philippine Normal University (PNU) also released statements warning their respective students, alumni, and faculty about the fake accounts.
Just a glitch
However, according to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the most probable cause of the ghost accounts is a Facebook glitch. (Read: Fake news endangers lives more than COVID-19, and each of us can fix it)
“Ang tinitingnan pa lang namin ngayon, in all probability, glitch lang ito dahil napakahirap mag-create ng account ngayon sa Facebook, especially kapag madami kang kini-create na account under one ID, one cellphone number, one location,” said NBI Cybercrime Division Chief Victor Lorenzo in a TeleRadyo interview.
The chief assures the public that they are coordinating with the proper authorities, including Facebook, to address the issue. The bureau reminds everyone that any person who uses another person’s first name—even without their surname, photos, and other details—can be charged with identity theft. Identity theft is subject to six to 12 years imprisonment, according to the Anti-Cybercrime Prevention Act.