Marcos content spreads via super-sharers on Facebook

Arlene Burgos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 02 2022 04:06 PM

Larry Gadon, former Sen. Bongbong Marcos, and former First Lady Imelda Marcos during the hosting of her 90th birthday at the Rizal Park Open Air Auditorium in Manila on July 1, 2019. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/File
Larry Gadon, former Sen. Bongbong Marcos, and former First Lady Imelda Marcos during the hosting of her 90th birthday at the Rizal Park Open Air Auditorium in Manila on July 1, 2019. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/File

Larry Gadon page leads pack of super-spreaders late 2021

Editor’s note: First in a series by ABS-CBN News on the presence on Facebook of Halalan 2022 presidential candidates. 

MANILA - In the past six years, interactions on Facebook about the family of former President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. have been pushed, relayed and amplified by pages and accounts that were able to immediately muster likes and followers by the thousands, research by ABS-CBN News showed. 

In 2016, an election year, Facebook conversations about the Marcoses peaked November 18 when the dictator was buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. There were 2.24 million reactions, comments and shares about the issue.

Outside of the content from verified news organizations that reported about the event, Sen. Imee Marcos' page's video post of his brother, former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., speaking during the burial, and the statement of Vice President Leni Robredo, the most shared content were from the PSSAP Underground Media (14,545 shares) and the AKO OFW Inc. (12,896 shares) Facebook pages.

The PSSAP Underground Media page was created as the Philippines Underground Media on Oct. 14, 2015 but changed its name the next day to PSSAP Underground Media. It has been fact-checked numerous times because of its posts attempting to debunk historically established facts.

Years after its creation, the page would have periodic booms in interactions. These would be characterized by big interaction numbers over a number of days, and then the page would go without interactions again.

And then on Feb. 19, 2017, the page suddenly had 201,985 likes. Today 302,798 people like this page and 414,773 people follow it.

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ABS-CBN News tried but failed to get the side of the PSSAP Underground Media Facebook page. 

AKO OFW Inc., meanwhile, was a page created Dec. 6, 2015 with the name Ofw Advocates & Keepers Organization. Its first post that day reflected this name. It would change its name twice in 2016 before settling on its current name. 

For about two years from that time, the page would post news, information, public service announcements on and for overseas Filipino workers.

But on July 30, 2017, it went from zero to 107,503 likes and 107,655 followers.

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These days, the AKO OFW Inc. page posts about its campaign activities and its candidates as it is among party-list groups seeking congressional seats in the May 9 elections, running as Number 10 party-list group under the name Advocates and Keepers Organization of OFWs, Inc. or AKO OFW.

The group tried but was disqualified from running in the 2019 polls. 

AKO OFW's first nominee, Dr Chie Umandap, confirmed that their page went from zero to 100,000-plus likes overnight. But he emphasized this was due to an active and engaged community that their group nurtured. 

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Umandap was a dentist who had worked since 1993 in Kuwait. He came back to the Philippines in 2018 after being appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte as the overseas worker representative in the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration Board of Trustees. 

Speaking with ABS-CBN News over the phone and via Zoom, Umandap sounded proud to learn that the Facebook page of which he is an administrator contributes interactions to the online chatter around Marcos Jr. 

Marcos Jr.'s filing of intent to run as president Oct. 6, 2021 created an uptick in interactions on posts about him, registering 5.34 million reactions, comments and shares.

Some of these top content sharers in October 2021 would be among accounts who would lead in the spreading of pro-Marcos content in the succeeding months.

How content super-sharers behave

Most – not all – Facebook accounts which have been sharing the content of or about former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. since October when he filed his candidacy are supportive of him; there were some pages that seem to be critical of him. Either way, the shares, done very fast and within minutes, were by the thousands. They appeared to be posting at the same time too, as per research by ABS-CBN News. 

Inspired by the research in 2021 of Dr William Emmanuel Yu of the Ateneo de Manila University, the ABS-CBN News team applied the algorithm developed by Yu on public Facebook interactions to identify "coordinated behavior." In Yu’s algorithm, at least 5 Facebook pages sharing the same post within 1 minute would be tagged as exhibiting coordinated behavior. 

Facebook, now Meta, has been speaking against "coordinated inauthentic behavior" or CIB, because this undermines truthful public sentiment by manipulating distribution of content on the platform. The Yu algorithm adopted by ABS-CBN News does not make judgment whether the accounts or their actions are authentic; for now, it simply tags accounts spreading identical posts within a monitored time and identifies these as exhibiting coordinated behavior. 

Several Marcos content sharers who emerged late last year during and after the filing of the certificates of candidacies for the Halalan 2022 are super-spreaders, actively sharing content about Marcos or his family for at least two months in a row. But when ranked according to the volume of their posts between October and February, the Facebook page of Senate candidate Larry Gadon led the list of top sharers for the past 5 months.

Gadon, in a text message, confirmed that the account is his. 

Coming in fifth on the list is a page called Quezon City Mayor Mike Defensor, which was created under a different name on April 1, 2019, and was again renamed twice before settling on its current name.

Many of the pages on the list were not behaving like usual Facebook accounts created for specific communities, interests, or even businesses. When historically tracked, they appeared capable of suddenly acquiring massive following.

'Big-bang' accounts

Of the top 10 super-sharer pages from October to February, for instance, half acquired page likes by the thousands within a day, going from zero to at least 4,000 likes, as was the case for the Momo page on July 27, 2021, the day after it was created. 

The Gadon account itself suddenly acquired 6,428 likes on July 30, 2017, a year and a half after it was created Dec. 5, 2016. 

Gadon said this is one of three accounts he has. He confirmed this account already has 1.2 million likes after having started in 2019. 

Gadon's other account, Atty. Larry Gadon 2022, has 715,000 likes. This account is administered by his staff, he said, and "was created only last year." The page transparency showed that the page was created as Atty. Larry Gadon Supporters For 2022 on Dec. 12, 2020, then changed to its current name Sept. 18, 2021. 

Gadon said in his text message, "600K (likes), yes, purely organic, and our posts are election-related, I guess it's luck." 

In terms of coordinated sharing, this Gadon page is the 18th top sharer of Marcos content between October and February. 

Meanwhile, the GO Philippines page, created Feb. 12, 2014 as Palarong Pambansa, then changed names twice in 2020 before settling on its current name in 2021, suddenly had 69,342 followers on Dec. 11, 2018.

On July 25, 2020, GO Philippines suddenly had 101,260 page likes.

This Facebook page has yet to respond to queries by ABS-CBN News. 

The other pages meanwhile appeared to suddenly have a growth spurt.

A page called 24/7, which identified itself as a "news & media website," had 297 likes on Oct 03, 2021. In the succeeding days it had 1,297; then 2,899; then 7,001; and finally it had 12,545 likes on Oct. 7, 2021. This page now has 78,000.

The Blytheブ account, meanwhile, which says it is a "gaming video creator" and uses the profile of teen star Andrea Brillantes suddenly had 4,451, then 9,929, and 17,569 likes in three consecutive days after its creation.

A page with user name happygoluckyvibes went from 385 to 15,011 in 6 days after it was created on Nov. 25, 2020.

Momo, which says it is a "comedy club," posts funny or offbeat videos, even live videos of people playing Mobile Legends, or intriguing political or election campaign photos with URLs that link out to an online shopping site.

The pages 24/7 and Blythe also post links to shopping sites in combination with photo or videos of political content or a promotion of other sites. This is also the posting style of a page called Courteous. 

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The pages are in a seeming loop of networked accounts where the pages share identical content, or refer each other's pages through their posts.

All of these Facebook pages were contacted for their comments. Repeated attempts to reach them to get their side were unsuccessful. 

ABS-CBN News has asked the Marcos camp for comment about these pages or about their stand on audience-building on Facebook but has yet to receive a reply as of posting. This article will be updated in the event the Marcos camp responds. 

Marcos Jr. has previously denied the existence of alleged troll farms in his campaign, as well as their influence to revise history.

Unrecorded or undetected

In a statement to ABS-CBN News, CrowdTangle, Facebook's metrics unit, said it is only able to start monitoring the likes of a page after the page enters its system, or after the page has reached at least 5,000 likes. 

Responding to question on why some pages are not tracked immediately, and are shown on its own monitoring as already having thousands of likes, CrowdTangle raised the possibility that the pages may have been previously not publicly visible. 

"There could be a few reasons why it was not tracked from the 5K mark, such as the Pages being gated in any way (age/geo gated) or if it was privatized before. Unfortunately this is not something that we can determine now," CrowdTangle said. 

Facebook, now Meta, has penalized pages for engaging in CIB. Early this month, it said it has taken down a network of over 400 accounts, pages and groups that violate its community standards ahead of the Philippines' May 9 elections. 

"CIB [coordinated inauthentic behavior] is typically designed to mislead people about who is behind an operation to manipulate public debate for a strategic goal… Inauthentic Behavior (IB) is primarily centered around amplifying and increasing the distribution of content," Meta said in its Adversarial Threat Report this month.

For their April report, Facebook spotlighted Philippines election, and listed down ways to spot inauthentic behavior.