#TheFilipinoVotes: CNN Philippines’ Reality Check Team guards against online trolls in second senatorial forum

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 28) — Part of CNN Philippines’ effort to uphold election integrity for the May 2019 polls is forming the Reality Check Team to fact-check politicians’ statements and report on new trends of fake news and suspicious online behaviors.

CNN Philippines worked with a team of global academic experts and student volunteers in the second #TheFilipinoVotes senatorial forum to guard against online trolls’ systematic attempts to plant questions, divert attention, and hijack the conversation.

During the forum that pitted seven senatorial candidates in political discussion, CNN Philippines resident sociologist Nicole Curato invited citizens online to weigh in on the debate and send their comments and questions on the Facebook and Instagram livestreams as well as the hashtag #TheFilipinoVotes on Twitter.

The Facebook livestream garnered over 96,000 views and over 15,000 comments. During the debate, Curato and the Reality Check Team were alerted by several planted questions and divisive comments from suspicious accounts.

On Twitter and Instagram, recently created anonymous accounts with low numbers of followers and content posted questions and comments in support of a particular candidate. The Reality Check team performed due diligence to vet each submission and review the social media profiles that authored them.

A team found an anonymous account @NonSequitur2018 on Twitter, opened only in December 2018, aggressively posting statements of support for senatorial bet Florin Hilbay and the Otso Diretso team while attacking other candidates. The account also sent in questions directed to Hilbay via the hashtag #TheFilipinoVotes in the aim of generating a favorable impression for the candidate.

Jonathan Corpus Ong of the Reality Check Team said, “In our previous research on the 2016 elections entitled ‘Architects of Networked Disinformation’ , what we call ‘anonymous influencer accounts’ might look innocent or even funny but they actually systematically attempt to hijack public attention by artificially engineering trending hashtags and finding ways to shift the media agenda. We always need to be alert and learn to unfollow these bad actors.”

The team also found evidence of “real” organized political fans attempting to influence the discussion within Facebook comment threads and Twitter hashtag conversations by fanning the flames of divided political camps.

Polarized fan rallying on social media was visible among Liberal Party supporters and Mar Roxas supporters in particular as well as supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte. Many of the online users appeared to copy-paste similar scripted statements of support for Roxas while at other times accused Harry Roque and Rafael Alunan as lapdogs of President Duterte.

Their comments did not address any of the candidates’ positions on issues discussed in the forum, affirming their strong group identity through sloganeering statements.

Screengrab from CNN Philippines’ #TheFilipinoVotes Part 2 Facebook Live

Screengrab from CNN Philippines’ #TheFilipinoVotes Part 2 Facebook Live

Screengrab from CNN Philippines’ #TheFilipinoVotes Part 2 Facebook Live

Neither President Duterte nor the Liberal Party was explicitly referenced by any of the senatorial bets. But the team found that active posters online tried to rally their political camps by returning to the political divides and further entrenching them in the public conversation — even though questions posed by senatorial forum moderators Pia Hontiveros and Pinky Webb tried to steer discussions to policy rather than personality.

Nevertheless the Reality Check Team found positive evidence of political learning and passionate democratic participation from our tracking of online conversations. For example, some undecided voters expressed how politicians’ performances in the forum have already affected their choices for the May polls.

 

Others meanwhile used social media to express emotional affection for the politicians that affirmed their social and political beliefs. Samira Gutoc’s emphatic denunciation of rape jokes inspired some netizens, while her impassioned delivery of a line from the Disney film Pocahontas won over some voters.

Screen grabbed from Twitter using #TheFilipinoVotes hashtag

At the end of the forum, the Reality Check Team went live on Facebook to review lessons learned from monitoring #TheFilipinoVotes senatorial forum.

 

 

Watch out for more exclusive reports from the team exposing the emerging trends in fake news and organized media manipulation in the next months leading into the May polls.

CNN Philippines’ Reality Check Team aims to monitor politicians’ promises and report on organized media manipulation by suspicious online actors. The team includes Jonathan Corpus Ong, Nicole Curato, Samuel Cabbuag and Rossine Fallorina, with active support by UP Diliman student volunteers Cariece Antonio, Ysabela Calderon, Samantha Gabronino, Isabela Maria Padilla, and Camille Rose Pajarillo. The project is also supported by Australia National University, the University of Canberra, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.