Senators want probe on troll farms allegedly funded by government

Twelve senators are pushing for an investigation on the troll farms that were allegedly funded by the government.

In Senate Resolution No. 768, the appropriate committee would probe the alleged spending of government funds to create troll farms that attack the critics of the Duterte administration.

“Filipinos should know why the government spends public funds on troll operators disguised as ‘public relations practitioners’ and ‘social media consultants’ who sow fake news,” the resolution read.

Senators Vicente III, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Senators Nancy Binay, Leila de Lima, Richard Gordon, Risa Hontiveros, Panfilo Lacson, Emmanuel Pacquiao, Francis Pangilinan, Grace Poe, and Joel Villanueva filed the resolution.

According to the resolution, a social media troll is defined as “someone who creates conflict on sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit by posting messages that are particularly controversial or inflammatory with the sole intent of provoking an emotional response from other users.”

Professor Jonathan Ong, a disinformation researcher at Harvard University, said that just before the 2016 election, troll farms flourished based on their studies and even in the 2019 midterm elections.

Senators want probe on troll farms allegedly funded by government

But now, he said, the trolls have changed their strategy to prevent their fake accounts from being suspended, especially since they can be easily identified as on Facebook.

“Disinformation and influenced operations are becoming more harder to track, becoming more targeted. So if you recall, in 2016, we have the so-called purveyor of fake news. These are high-level celebrities or mega influencers. They have millions of followers on social media. Nakikita natin kung ano sinasabi nila. People can fact-check them. But in 2019 elections, [it] becomes more micro-targeted,” said Ong.

Meanwhile, Senator Villanueva condemned the operations of trolls.

“Democracy can only flourish under the free and frank exchange of ideas that may clash as they often must, but always must be anchored on facts,” said Villanueva.

Senator Pangilinan said, “Trolling is lying. It is evil, especially that we have an upcoming election. If people elect a president and other officials because of the fake information spread by paid trolls, then similarly we will have a fake president and fake officials.”

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