MANILA - Malacañang on Wednesday denied that government is funding alleged online trolls, which critics say are being used by the Duterte administration to intimidate dissenters online.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said there is no “budgetary line item for payment of trolls in the social media,” adding that the government does not use social media for “partisan or political purposes.”
“We find trolls of this nature also on the other side of the political fence defending the prior administration, attacking this administration,” Roque said in a news briefing.
“No. Definitely not. If trolls are paid by government, they wouldn’t have attacked me in the first place,” he added, referring to his previous tiff with popular online defenders of the President.
MSNBC’s Ari Melber last week put a spotlight on how Duterte supposedly used Facebook to win the elections and advanced his political agenda after his presidential victory.
He said Facebook held training sessions with presidential candidates in the May 2016 elections.
“Facebook has a government team that does global work…and they train campaigns they say from all sides,” Melber said.
“But giving tips to a few campaigns in a constitutional democracy can be different in giving tips to this authoritarian, Duterte. And Facebook learned that quickly.”
Melber noted how fake news that Pope Francis had endorsed Duterte, which quickly spread on Facebook in the Philippines in March 2016, was similar to a story that made the rounds in the United States later that year, which said the pontiff had endorsed then presidential candidate Donald Trump.
“In fact after his (Duterte) team got that Facebook briefing, his allies went into overdrive pushing fake news and accounts along with his wider campaigns,” Melber said.
Roque, meanwhile, said the government only uses social media to promote its accomplishments and its message to Filipino people.
Duterte scored a majority win in the May 2016 elections despite his late entry in the race, backed by strong social media support.
In May last year, Duterte appointed one of his strongest supporters, former sexy dancer Margaux "Mocha" Uson, as Communications Assistant Secretary. Uson maintains a widely followed Facebook page.