'Troll-hunters' should target PR strategists, consultants: expert

Benise Balaoing, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 06 2022 12:45 PM

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MANILA – The hunt for online “trolls” who spread misinformation and disinformation must be strategic and should target the people in charge, an expert said Friday.

Dr. Jonathan Ong, disinformation researcher at the University of Massachusetts, said fact-checkers and academics must also focus on the “chief architects” of disinformation.

“I also try to encourage folks to be quite strategic about it. Paminsan if we focus too much on, you know, low-level accounts, it sometimes takes away from our focus on the trolls at the top of the hierarchy,” he said.

“I think troll-hunting must always start at the top and hold accountable the (public relations) strategists, political consultants who are running the show or else, hindi tayo mauubusan ng mga fake accounts. Di ba, parang if we only focus on that kind of definition, that narrow definition of who a troll is,” he added.

Ong also said the public must understand that there are persons behind troll accounts.

“Trolls are people. There are human beings behind these accounts and we need to hear their stories,” he said.

“By understanding the work culture of troll industries we’re able to also spotlight where they’re coming from and how we need to make things more transparent from within PR firms, creative industries who are complicit to political campaigns and smear campaigns that we see online.”

Ong’s statement comes after a group of Filipino-Americans urged Facebook to take down a network of "trolls" who they said is at the forefront of widespread disinformation in relation to the 2022 Philippine elections.

Ong said Facebook and other big tech platforms can do more to curb disinformation and misinformation online.

“There’s other deeper and more strategic engagements we can compel platforms to do. One would be to support local media initiatives, as well [as] to support more fact-checkers.”

He noted, however, that they might need help from policy makers and other experts.

“Facebook doesn’t have all the solutions here. They need to collaborate with policy makers, with academics, with legal experts, that’s what I call a whole of society approach,” he said.

--ANC, 6 May 2022