Rappler boss condemns 'patriotic trolling' on social media


Posted at Jan 30 2018 08:09 PM

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MANILA - News site Rappler's CEO Maria Ressa on Tuesday explained to senators the proliferation of "patriotic trolling" or "state-sponsored online hate and harassment campaigns [designed] to silence and intimidate."

At a Senate hearing on the spread of disinformation, Ressa cited a recent FreedomHouse.org study that showed that "in 30 of the 65 countries (included in the study), social media provided cheap armies for potential authoritarians and dictators to control public opinion." 

"Instead of controlling (information), you flood the market with lies and disinformation," she said during a Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media hearing on "fake news."

Ressa, whose organization has been the subject of such online heckling, said patriotic trolls would repeatedly attack the credibility of a target by continuously coming up with allegations. 

Trolls would then resort to misogynistic attacks and would then develop specific hashtags to "inflame biases".

"If you repeat a lie 10 times, truth can catch up, but if you say a lie a million times, that becomes the truth," she said.

Ressa said "a sock puppet network of 26 fake accounts" in the Philippines "can influence about 3 million accounts."

"What you're seeing in our country is a campaign machinery that becomes weaponized," she said.

The Philippines is vulnerable to "patriotic trolling" as 97 percent of Filipinos have social media accounts and spend a lot of time online, Ressa said.

But Ressa told lawmakers there is no need to craft new legislation to curb the rise of fake news and "patriotic trolling" as existing laws may be used to hold trolls accountable.

The Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media intends to summon Facebook officials in the next hearing to further study the phenomenon of negativity and divisiveness on the social network.