Patient Zero: PH creative, digital workers being used to spread disinformation

Gillan Ropero, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 19 2019 09:32 AM | Updated as of Nov 19 2019 09:55 AM

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MANILA - Creative and digital workers in the country are being exploited for disinformation campaigns, a communications professor said Tuesday.

Creative workers are lured into the "digital underground to do disinformation work," according to Jason Vincent Cabañes, an associate professor of communication at De La Salle University.

"We have this burgeoning digital and creative industries. The people who lead in these different models of disinformation are tapping into this and exploiting many of our precarious digital workers," he told ANC's Early Edition.

"The more worrisome thing is that disinformation has been outsourced to the creative and digital industry and these are the ones that are innovating quickly and growing really fast."

The Philippines has been called by experts "patient zero" of disinformation, Cabañes said, as it surfaced in the country in the May 2016 elections, before Brexit in June 2016 and the US elections in November 2016.

"Disinformation in the Philippines is becoming much more entrenched, diverse and especially lucrative for people who are part of it. So the situation is really quite worrisome," he said.

"It’s very amoral and commercially driven. It’s all about money."

In his upcoming study, Cabañes said he and his co-author found 4 models of disinformation in the Philippines. The first is led by advertising and public relations experts who offer a 3-month disinformation campaign for P30 million.

Cabañes said another one is the clickbait model, which the digital marketing group Twinmark Media used. The firm earned hundreds of millions of pesos from spreading disinformation on Facebook and Google before its takedown.

Politicians also obligate their staff to "do trolling on the side" in an in-house model, according to Cabañes. He, however, said they have yet to confirm the state-sponsored model, where public funds are used for disinformation campaigns.

The professor warned that the digital disinformation industry in the country is being exported, citing data analytics firms who do political insight in other countries and offer a one-stop-shop for disinformation.

"If you could provide social safety nets, incentivize ethical practice and professionalize the digital industries then perhaps we could stem disinformation from the source rather than trying to play catch up in terms of regulation," he said.