Facebook denies bias in account takedowns

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Facebook denies that it is biased in taking down accounts engaged in 'coordinated inauthentic behavior.'

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 1) — Facebook denied that it is biased in taking down accounts, saying that their basis for booting these out of their platforms is their "inauthentic" behavior and not the content that they post.

"It's not about what they say, it's not about who they are, it's not about who they're fighting for, the question is are they using deceptive techniques to conceal their identities?" Facebook head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher told CNN Philippines' The Source.

Gleicher explained that they are leaving the verification of the truthfulness of content posted by these accounts to third-party fact checkers, who flag these and pull these down from news feeds, lessening users' interaction with false content.

In the Philippines, Facebook's fact-checkers are VERA Files, Rappler and Agence France Presse.

READ: PCOO, Vera Files agree: No to social media regulation, yes to media literacy

Facebook announced on Friday that it has taken down 200 accounts, pages and groups linked to a network organized by Nic Gabunada, who was behind the social media campaign of President Rodrigo Duterte in the 2016 polls.

READ: Duterte, the social media president

Among the pages they took down are "Bong Go Supporters," "Duterte Warriors" and "Kuya Sonny Angara."

The social media giant said they took down these accounts because of "coordinated inauthentic behavior" and not due to the content they posted.

Gleicher said this is "a network of pages, groups and accounts that are all working together that are designed to look independent, but are actually coordinated in the background and they're misleading people about who's behind it."

Most pages pro-Duterte

Graphika, a network analysis firm which Gleicher said has been tapped by Facebook, found that of the 200 accounts, pages and groups removed from Facebook and Instagram, 65 pages were primarily engaged in spreading pro-Duterte content and promoting a number of Duterte-aligned politicians who will be running in the May polls.

Among the politicians whom these pages were dedicated to include Duterte's daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, former President Ferdinand Marcos and his children, Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos and former Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., former police chief Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa, and former Special Assistant to the President Christopher "Bong" Go.

Most of the pages dedicated to other politicians were focused on Sara, closely followed by Imee's fan pages.

Imee, Dela Rosa and Go are running for senator in the coming elections and are supported by the President Duterte's Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan party and Mayor Duterte's regional Hugpong ng Pagbabago party.

"In our categorization of content and narratives shared by the network, we found that 46.2% of the pages shared content explicitly supporting President Duterte as a politician, and the second largest category (27.7%) shared news articles that paint the Duterte administration and the government government ... in a positive light," Graphika said in a report published following Facebook's announcement.

Graphika added that these accounts were used to target human rights activists and members of the opposition, like Vice President Leni Robredo and Senator Leila de Lima.

It said the pages' messaging against these personalities include sharing their criticism of the President, calling on them to resign or be removed from office, amplifying claims and conspiracy theories against them, discrediting them on the basis of their character and spreading disinformation about them.

RELATED: Sara Duterte hits opposition slate anew: 'They are liars, and this is the truth'

Malacañang downplayed the role of social media in the election of the President, saying that most of his voters came from the masses.

"The overwhelming majority that voted him into office, I don't think they have Facebook accounts or whatever," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Monday at a Palace media briefing.

Panelo added that both sides of the political fence used social media in their campaigns and may have equally benefited from it.

He also denied that the President had a hand in these accounts and that government funds were used in operating them.

"Hindi siya 'yung tipong interesado sa mga Facebook account. Hindi siya 'yun eh. Siya 'yung tipong he'll just give you his policies and then enforce them," Panelo said.

[Translation: He's not the kind of person who is interested in Facebook accounts. He's not that. He's the kind of person who'll just give you his policies and then enforce them.]

Graphika also noted that on "rare occasions" these pages posted content critical of the President, including one which asked why he has been silent on the issue of vaccinations and natural medicine and suggested that he is under pressure from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

The firm said these pages had 3,318 to 457,624 likes. Most were managed from the Philippines and were created in 2017, but some date back to May 2013.

CNN Philippines Multi-platform Writer Xave Gregorio contributed to this report.