Pro-Marcos accounts dominate online misinformation in Philippine polls

Agence France-Presse

Posted at May 07 2022 05:25 PM

Presidential candidate Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. gestures as he speaks to his supporters during a campaign rally in Binan, Laguna, Philippines, on April 21, 2022. Francis R. Malasig, EPA-EFE/file
Presidential candidate Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. gestures as he speaks to his supporters during a campaign rally in Binan, Laguna, Philippines, on April 21, 2022. Francis R. Malasig, EPA-EFE/file

Facebook in the Philippines has exploded with misinformation about the two presidential front runners in next week's polls, as pages supporting Ferdinand Marcos Jr. flood the site and trash his rival Leni Robredo.

Fake and misleading posts on TikTok and YouTube have also leached into the most popular social media platform among the country's nearly 76 million internet users, turning it into a melting pot of election fallacies.

Marcos Jr., the son and namesake of the country's late dictator, is expected to win in a landslide on May 9 in polls seen by many as the most consequential in Philippine history. Robredo is a distant second.

Since the beginning of 2021, Marcos Jr has been the biggest beneficiary of misinformation that has portrayed his family in a favourable light, analysis by AFP's Fact Check team shows.

Robredo, on the other hand, has been the main target of negative posts seeking to discredit her as stupid, rude or even a communist.

Using social media monitoring tool CrowdTangle, AFP has identified the biggest super-spreader accounts of election-related misinformation.

All of them are pro-Marcos. 

Here are the top five:

- 'Geralyn' -

The Facebook account named "Geralyn" started out in 2019 as a page focused on "funny videos, quotes and everything!" with a modest following of around 20,000.

That more than doubled this year after the account shared a video showing supporters of Marcos Jr and his running mate Sara Duterte peacefully marching on a street.

The clip received more than a million interactions -- likes, shares and comments -- and 6.6 million views.

Since then, the page has shared posts alleging images of Robredo's campaign rallies were doctored to inflate crowd numbers.

It has also spread misleading exit polls of Marcos Jr winning in overseas absentee voting. 

The posts have consistently received hundreds of thousands of interactions every week.

- 'Kobe's Page' -

The Facebook account named "Kobe's Page" mainly publishes pro-Marcos and anti-Robredo content. 

Weekly interactions surged from an average of 98 to 167,000 after it posted a video on October 20 comparing the disaster responses of the older Marcos and the government of former president Benigno Aquino.

The video was viewed 5.6 million times.

Aquino, who died last year, was the son of the late former president Corazon Aquino and her assassinated husband, senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, both revered for leading the struggle to restore democracy in the archipelago.

Corazon ran against the elder Marcos in snap elections in 1986 that led to his ousting.

- 'Maharlika' -

"Maharlika", a Facebook account created by a Filipino user in the United States in 2015, has nearly a million followers and has since expanded to YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Rumble and its own website. 

It rose to prominence for being pro-President Rodrigo Duterte, sharing official press releases and making vicious comments about government opponents in online videos. 

But since about 2021 the social media accounts linked to the Facebook page have switched to promoting Marcos Jr and Sara Duterte. It has even had several interviews with the scion and his family.

The "Maharlika" accounts have shared recurring misinformation, such as "evidence" that Robredo cheated in the 2016 vice-presidential elections when she narrowly defeated Marcos Jr.

The posts have had a massive impact online, receiving tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of interactions every week for the past year.

That surged to more than 1.2 million after Marcos Jr filed his candidacy for president and Duterte announced she would run alongside him.

But some posts have landed "Maharlika" in legal hot water. Robredo's running mate Francis Pangilinan has sued for defamation over videos that he says damaged his family's reputation. 

- 'Showbiz Fanaticz' -

Verified YouTube channel "Showbiz Fanaticz" focuses on celebrities, but since about 2020 has also been pumping out political misinformation. 

Created in 2017, its more than 3,200 videos have been viewed nearly 280 million times on YouTube alone. 

The videos are packaged as sensational news reports with all-cap headlines and a distinctive voiceover. 

Clips are taken from viral footage and images on social media platforms, as well as news reports by credible media outlets. 

One showed a man claiming to have witnessed Robredo committing "fraud" in the 2016 elections. It was posted in December 2020 and viewed more than 1.2 million times. 

AFP has debunked many of its videos.

- 'Robin Sweet Balladeer' -

A week after Robredo filed her candidacy in October, the Facebook page "Robin Sweet Balladeer" posted a TikTok video of a man accusing the media and "Yellows" of creating anti-Marcos propaganda. 

"Yellows" is a pejorative term associated with liberal supporters of former president Corazon Aquino and her son.

The video racked up almost six million views on the Facebook page and YouTube channel linked to the account. 

"Robin Sweet Balladeer" has more than 100,000 followers on Facebook and over 322,000 subscribers on YouTube, where it has created over a thousand videos since 2020.

It posts videos on a daily basis. AFP has debunked several since October 2021.

They include a false claim that Smartmatic -- the provider of electronic voting systems for the elections -- was "removed" from the 2022 polls and a misleading post showing Robredo rejecting a hug from a supporter.