A Troll President in 2022? Troll farms a threat to PH elections, says lawmaker


Posted at Jun 22 2021 10:16 AM | Updated as of Jun 22 2021 02:57 PM

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MANILA - If troll farms have their way, the next Philippine president could be elected through the amplification of misinformation, fake news and outright lies on social media, a lawmaker warned Tuesday. 

Lawmakers from Bayan Muna party-list are seeking an investigation into allegations that a certain ranking government official is establishing internet troll farms all over the country for next year's elections.

Rep. Carlos Zarate said they filed House Resolution 1900 following Sen. Panfilo Lacson's revelation that a government undersecretary had been using public funds to put up at least 2 troll farms in every province.

"This is really a threat not only to our election but to the very core of our existence of our country and to our democracy," he told ANC's "Rundown".

Zarate said troll farms could amplify misinformation and sway people's vote in the 2022 polls, which seeks to elect President Rodrigo Duterte's successor. He noted that troll farms have been used to red-tag community party organizers as well as attack the International Criminal Court. 

"Can you imagine a president elected by trolls? So we will have a troll president for that matter," he said.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque earlier denied that the Duterte administration is bankrolling the creation of troll farms, saying the government official could be doing it in a personal capacity. 

"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.)

In the interview, Zarate also questioned why Nic Gabunada had been awarded a 6-month contract worth P900,000 by the Department of Finance to serve as its social media strategist.

Gabunada is a public relations consultant who served as Duterte's social media strategist in the 2016 elections.

In 2019, Facebook took down 67 Facebook Pages, 68 Accounts, 40 Groups, and 25 Instagram accounts linked to Gabunada for engaging in what the social media giant said was inauthentic coordinated behavior.

The social media giant also said these Pages used fake accounts to mislead people about the origin of content posted.

"What kind of narrative the Department of Finance will play in its social media campaign, especially now that our country is mired in severe crisis. We are now reaching trillions and trillions of debts under this present administration," Zarate said.

"It really raise a serious concern for the Department of Finance to hire a person that is involved or previously involved in this kind of campaign [on] how the network organized by this person manipulated the narratives or the stories being posted in social media," he added.

In a statement, Gabunada had said he has received a Notice of Award from DOF but has yet to sign a contract. 

"Both parties can still get out of the engagement, if the details of the terms of engagement are not agreeable to both parties. Details are still to be discussed and I have not received any document containing it, yet," he said.