President Duterte has described the UK’s Oxford University as a “school for stupid people” after it published a research paper into the use of “troll armies”.
As we have previously reported, the university’s report “Troops, Trolls and Troublemakers: A Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation”, claimed that Mr Duterte spent 10 million pesos on hiring social media trolls.
As part of a study encompassing 28 countries, academics Samantha Bradshaw and Professor Philip N Howard claimed he had also used automated ‘bot’ accounts to post supportive messages during his presidential campaign, and continues to do so.
In a press conference this week, the president admitted to spending the cash during the election campaign, but denied that it was ongoing.
He said: “I do not need to defend myself against attacks. I stated my piece during my inauguration and my campaign. I’m not anymore eligible for reelection.
“Oxford University? That’s a school for stupid people,” he added in Filipino.
The research paper examined a wide range of countries across the world to gauge the prevalence of military or party political use of social media to influence the public.
The report concluded that such practices were widespread.
It said: “Over time, the primary mode for organising cyber troops has gone from involving military units that experiment with manipulating public opinion over social media networks to strategic communication firms that take contracts from governments for social media campaigns.”
The report documented how “cyber troops” had been used to silence political dissent online and could often lead to real-life threats and damage to people’s reputations.
“In the Philippines”, it said, “many of the so-called ‘keyboard trolls’ hired to spread propaganda for presidential candidate Duterte during the election continue to spread and amplify messages in support of his policies now he’s in power.”
In an apparent confirmation of the study’s findings, when this website published a report on the research, we were soon targeted by irate Duterte supporters.
Within minutes of publication, a reader called ‘Randy’ wrote: “What a vague study that doesn’t even identify who within Oxford did the study. [It did] This so called “study” appeared to have been based on claims by Filipino self-described experts on social media but are actually part of the well-funded establishment opposition. [It wasn’t] There was no solid evidence of anyone funding anything. [There was] On the contrary, during the election, the “yellow” establishment candidate so well-funded, they even spent 20 million pesos on last minute TV attack ad to discredit Duterte. This report is mere propaganda.”
This claim that opposition figures had somehow influenced the findings of an international study by the world’s oldest English speaking university was amplified by a commenter called ‘Juragg’, who wrote: “They were paid by Trillanes and Delima’s Army. Do your homework.”
Another reader, ‘Rommel Jurilla’ suggested that the study had been funded by “drug money”, adding: “Duterte followers seldom uses fake names unlike your ally here [?] who hides in their mother’s skirt!”
The University of Oxford, which was founded in the 11th Century and is consistently ranked among the top five universities in the world, has declined to comment on the allegations.