Lacson: Undersecretary building troll farms using gov't funds

Katrina Domingo and Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 08 2021 04:26 PM | Updated as of Jun 08 2021 04:34 PM

MANILA - Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Tuesday said an undersecretary has been using public funds to put up "at least 2 troll farms" in every province in the Philippines for a still undetermined purpose.

Lacson said he learned about the scheme after the undersecretary approached one of his former employees to help out in the project.

"Mayroon akong alam na Usec na nag-oorganize na sa buong bansa ng at least 2 troll farms sa [bawat] isang probinsya," Lacson told reporters in an online press conference, without naming the said official.

(I know that an undersecretary has been organizing the creation of 2 troll farms in every province.)

"Ang nakausap niya isang dati kong tauhan. Ni-report sa amin. Sabi niya, 'Nag-decline ako... Nag-oorganize sila sa bawat probinsya ng troll farm,'" he said.

(The undersecretary spoke to one of my former employees. He reported it to us. He said, "I declined... They are organizing troll farms in every province.")

Lacson did not disclose the name of the official and for which government agency the person works.

But he said he was certain that the official is "using the resources of government," but was unsure if the illegal project is "sanctioned by Malacañang."

"I hope not. Maybe overeager lang 'yung opisyal na 'yun na magpakitang gilas sa kaniyang ginagawa," he said.

(Maybe the official is just overeager to perform in his capacity.)

Malacañang denied that the Duterte government has been pushing for the creation of troll farms.

"Wala po kaming alam d’yan. Hindi po iyan polisiya ng gobyerno," said Palace spokesman Harry Roque. 
 
"Kung ginagawa po iyan ng taong gobyerno, siguro ginagawa nila iyan in their personal capacities," he said in a press briefing.
 
(We have nothing to do with that. That is not government policy. If there is a government personnel doing that, perhaps it’s in their personal capacities.)

Lacson did not say if the troll farms he learned about were designed to influence votes in the upcoming 2022 national elections. 

President Rodrigo Duterte had been swept to power by strong mass support after an eleventh-hour declaration of his candidacy in 2016. He has continued to enjoy big following online, with several social media pages dedicated to supporting his administration.

Lacson, meanwhile, said that he would be open to coalesce with smaller political parties should he decide to vie for the presidency next year.

"Kailangan kasi counted 'yung makinarya ng administration. Maski sa social media, sila namamayagpag," he said.

(I have to because the administration's machinery counts. They are the ones who dominate social media.)

"Maraming trolls na nag-ooperate," he said.

(There are a lot of troll involved in the operations.)

In 2019, a study found that disinformation increased and spawned innovations in the 2019 midterm elections.

Troll farm workers could earn as much as P1,000 a day by simply "copy-pasting" campaign messages of politicians, while an entire social media project could cost about P3 million for 3 months, according to the study titled "Tracking Digital Disinformation in the 2019 Philippine Midterm Elections."

"Comparatively speaking, it’s pretty cheap compared to a TV ad. For some of them it's actually a cheaper buy," media expert Jonathan Ong said in an earlier interview.

Sociologist Jayeel Cornelio earlier said that troll farms in the Philippines tend to gain traction online as these are designed to "draw on the experiences" of common folk.

"Why does their message gain traction? These trolls are not simply creating stories. They are drawing on the experiences of everyday people," he said.

Since 2019, several experts have been pushing for more transparency in digital campaign spending for 2022 elections to curb the rise of troll farms and disinformation strategies.

Video from Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s office