Če nas Trumpove (z izdatno pomočjo ruske obveščevalne mašinerije) manipulacije s Facebook targetiranim manipuliranjem množic, ki so na oblast najmočnejše države na svetu spravile nevarnega norca, niso streznile, nas mora filipinski primer. Kot opisuje današnji Bloomberg, je sedanji predsednik Rodrigo Duterte, sicer znani brutalni “the Punisher” župan, uporabil podobno gverilsko viralno strategijo pri predsedniški kampanji, po volitvah pa pri zatiranju opozicije in medijev. Najel je četico radikalnih aktivistov, katerim so prišli na pomoč inštuktorji iz Facebooka, in aktivisti so nato prek uporabe resničnih in lažnih Facebook računov, ki so se med seboj referirali, začeli izjemno uspešno širiti propagando za Duterta. Po zmagi Duterta pa so z isto vnemo začeli sistematično diskreditirati politične nasprotnike in medije, nekatere spravili v zapor, v vladne preiskave ali jih prisilili, da se umaknejo iz posla.
Menedžerji in glavni lastnik Facebooka kljub številnim pozivom naj preverijo dubiozne aktivnosti Facebookovih uporanikov na Filipinih na to niso reagirali. Nasprotno, z vlado so sklenili pakt in odlično sodelujejo pri velikem projektu.
To kaže, kako predvsem Facebook danes ne služi več le targetiranju potrošnikov za svoje korporativne naročnike, pač pa postaja izvrstno orožje za množično manipuliranje v rokah oblastnikov in perspektivnih pretendov za prevzem oblasti. In naprej, zadeva kaže, kako je “demokratizacija” razširjanja vsebin prek tehnološke revolucije in splošne dostopnosti do sredstev razširjanja, ušla izpod demokratičnega nadzora in postala ključna nevarnost demokracije.
Nisem prepričan, da je tega hudičevega duha sploh še mogoče spraviti nazaj v steklenico. Kako? S prepovedjo socialnih medijev? S poostreno vladno kontrolo (kitajskega tipa) nad vsebino sporočil? Kaj pa ko je oblast pokvarjena? Dejansko ne vidim načina, kako ta hudičev proces zaustaviti. Nekdanji ameriški regulator je kot rešitev za zajezitev propagande na pdlagi lažnih novic v Did technology kill the truth? predlagal, da bi morali lastniki socialnih omrežij odpreti svoje kode (kot primer je navedel sodelovanje Google maps in Uberja prek odprte API, ki jo uporablja Google maps). Na ta način naj bi bilo mogoče izslediti zaustaviti trende lažnih novic, preden se razvijejo v viralne.
Toda to je vse ex post delovanje, ko je je škoda že bila narejena in nisem prepričan, da je procese viralnosti mogoče zaustaviti, ko se že enkrat začnejo širiti. In kdo jih bo zaustavil? Nasprotna zainteresirana / prizadeta stran? Imajo prizadeti posamezniki, majhne stranke ali podjetja sploh resurse za spremljanje tega?
Ressa, something of a journalistic legend in her country, had invited five candidates for the 2016 Philippine presidential election to a Rappler forum called #TheLeaderIWant. Only Duterte showed on this January afternoon. So, after the crowd stood for the national anthem, Ressa introduced the lone candidate and his running mate. “The stage is yours,” she said to applause.
For the next two hours, Duterte, under bright lights, sat in a white leather chair as Ressa lobbed questions that had been crowdsourced on Facebook, the co-sponsor of the forum. This was a peak moment for both interviewer and subject. While the event elevated Ressa and her four-year-old company, it also gave the then-mayor of Davao City, known as “the Punisher” for his brutal response to crime in the southern Philippine city, an exceptional opportunity to showcase his views. It was broadcast on 200 television and radio stations, and viewing parties on more than 40 college campuses across the Philippines tuned in as the event was livestreamed.
The Philippines is prime Facebook country—smartphones outnumber people, and 97 percent of Filipinos who are online have Facebook accounts. Ressa’s forum introduced Duterte to Filipino millennials on the platform where they live. Duterte, a quick social media study despite being 71 at the time of the election, took it from there. He hired strategists who helped him transform his modest online presence, creating an army of Facebook personalities and bloggers worldwide. His large base of followers—enthusiastic and often vicious—was sometimes called the Duterte Die-Hard Supporters, or simply DDS. No one missed the reference to another DDS: Duterte’s infamous Davao Death Squad, widely thought to have killed hundreds of people.
“At the beginning I actually loved it because I felt like this was untapped potential,” Ressa says. “Duterte’s campaign on social media was groundbreaking.”
Until it became crushing. Since being elected in May 2016, Duterte has turned Facebook into a weapon. The same Facebook personalities who fought dirty to see Duterte win were brought inside the Malacañang Palace. From there they are methodically taking down opponents, including a prominent senator and human-rights activist who became the target of vicious online attacks and was ultimately jailed on a drug charge.
And then, as Ressa began probing the government’s use of social media and writing stories critical of the new president, the force of Facebook was turned against her.
As the campaign for the 2016 Philippine presidential election got under way, Facebook began receiving inquiries from candidates on how they could best use the platform. In January the company flew in three employees who spent a week holding training sessions with candidates. When it was Duterte’s turn, the Facebook team gathered with the campaign inside the Peninsula Manila Hotel. The campaign staff was trained in everything from the basics of setting up a campaign page and getting it authenticated with the trademark blue check mark to how to use content to attract followers. As an example of the use of unscripted video, the Duterte campaign was shown a live Facebook video of Barack Obama preparing for his State of the Union speech in 2016. The clip garnered more views than a video of the actual address to Congress.
Armed with new knowledge, Duterte’s people constructed a social media apparatus unlike that of any other candidate in the race. The strategy relied on hundreds of volunteers organized into four groups—three in the Philippines, based on geography, and one comprising overseas Filipino workers, a crucial constituency—to distribute messages created by the campaign. Every day the campaign would tee up the messages for the following day, and the volunteers would distribute them across networks that included real and fake Facebook accounts, some with hundreds of thousands of followers.
After Duterte won, Facebook did what it does for governments all over the world—it began deepening its partnership with the new administration, offering white-glove services to help it maximize the platform’s potential and use best practices. Even as Duterte banned the independent press from covering his inauguration live from inside Rizal Ceremonial Hall, the new administration arranged for the event to be streamed on Facebook, giving Filipinos around the world insider access to pre- and post-ceremonial events as they met their new strongman.
Repressive governments originally treated Facebook, and all social media, with suspicion—they saw how it could serve as a locus for dissidents, as it had in the Arab Spring in 2011. But authoritarian regimes are now embracing social media, shaping the platforms into a tool to wage war against a wide range of opponents—opposition parties, human-rights activists, minority populations, journalists.
The phenomenon, sometimes referred to as “patriotic trolling,” involves the use of targeted harassment and propaganda meant to go viral and to give the impression that there is a groundswell of organic support for the government. Much of the trolling is carried out by true believers, but there is evidence that some governments, including Duterte’s, pay people to execute attacks against opponents. Trolls use all the social media platforms—including Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, in addition to the comments sections of news sites. But in the Philippines, Facebook is dominant.
This, and another earlier incident, became the basis of the article that altered Ressa’s relationship with her government. She titled it “Propaganda War: Weaponizing the Internet.” Within hours of publication, she and Rappler were being attacked through Facebook. She began receiving rapid-fire hate messages. “Leave our country!!!! WHORE!!!!!!” read one. The messages became increasingly violent: “I want Maria Ressa to be raped repeatedly to death.” When she later reported that she was getting as many as 90 such messages per hour, including rape threats, the tidal wave began again. The onslaught became so disturbing that Ressa sent her social media team to counseling. She installed an armed guard in front of her office. By November an #UnfollowRappler campaign led to Rappler losing 52,000 of its Facebook followers, or about 1 percent.