"Some quarters want us to be too lazy to verify information, and to mistake propaganda for advocacy."
Filipinos have a love-hate relationship with social media giant Facebook. But we can’t seem to leave it anyway. What started out as a platform to share the mundane details of our everyday lives—the food we just ate, that vacation we took with the family, that present we received from the significant other, even the song that keeps playing in our head—evolved, over the years, into something we think we know and cannot do without.
The operative word is “think.”
Over time, we have been made aware that Facebook has employed technology that watches exactly the things we post, share, like and comment on. These then go into an information trove that can be used—is being used, in fact— to profile each user and make that user receive information he or she is likely to act upon. “Act upon” might mean buying an item, or voting for a candidate, or espousing a certain advocacy. Sometimes the information is used by those who want to invade our physical or virtual security. And that is just what we know.
We keep logging on, anyway, because it also serves our purpose to talk about our lives, project ourselves in a favorable light, or even keep in touch with family, friends, acquaintances and colleagues. During the lockdowns, it has also been a helpful platform for small online businesses. We just tell ourselves to be careful, and to mind our settings—conveniently forgetting that the moment we post anything, “private” is rendered meaningless.
Facebook has been called out for allowing these various forms of manipulation. After all, many quarters have benefited from the targeted posts and advertisements, even if these were downright lies. Facebook has in turn responded—belatedly and inadequately—by looking into the posts and comments and weeding out accounts that perform what it terms as “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” We know these more popularly as trolls.
Just last week, Facebook revealed it had taken down two networks from the Philippines and China which used fake accounts to post information on various topics including Philippine politics. The network from here was linked to the military and the police. Last year, Facebook took down some 200 accounts linked to the social media manager of President Rodrigo Duterte’s 2016 campaign.
This likely explains why, in a televised speech Monday night, Mr. Duterte lashed out at Facebook and made a veiled threat to ban it in the Philippines.
“I allow you to operate here,” Mr. Duterte said. “You cannot bar or prevent me from espousing the objectives of government. Is there life after Facebook? I don’t know. But we need to talk.”
The following day, however, the Palace “clarified” that the President has no plans of banning Facebook.
Ban or not, Facebook users in the Philippines have to be circumspect about the tradeoff that this convenient—and near-ubiquitous—platform carries. We have to be mindful that at every step, there are predators and manipulators lurking about, ready to take advantage of our carelessness and gullibility. They want us to be too lazy to verify information, and to mistake propaganda for advocacy. They want us to idolize people and defend their words and acts no matter what. They want us to stop thinking for ourselves and then turn against us when we call them out.
Let us not rely on external parties to flag “coordinated inauthentic behavior” for us. Let us teach ourselves to spot these fakes and resist their attempts to take over our good sense.