Duterte supporters turn to Russian social media after Facebook announced new fact-checking program

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte won the presidency with the help of a dedicated army of supporters on Facebook. But over the weekend, some of these people decided that they’ve had enough of the social media platform and will use the Russian site VK instead.

This comes just days after Facebook announced on Thursday that it will partner with social news website Rappler and non-profit news organization Vera Files to fact-check news shared on the platform.

Both Rappler and Vera Files have been tagged by Duterte supporters as biased toward the opposition.

The move to VK — a site admittedly few Filipinos are familiar with — was suggested by Duterte supporter Paula Defensor Knack, the sister of late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago.

In a Facebook post from Thursday, she called on supporters to leave Facebook and said that she will announce in the coming days what platform they should use instead.

“I am closing my FB account. I am not going to let Yellows (the opposition) fact check me or suspend my account. NO WAY,” Knack wrote.

The post’s photo also reads: “We will leave Vera Files and Rappler with no one to talk to or no account to suspend on FB.”

Screenshot from Paula Defensor Knack Facebook page.

She then said that they’ve moved to VK and gave instructions for joining DDS (Die-hard Duterte Supporters) groups.

Screenshot from Paula Defensor Knack Facebook page.

In another post, she told people to not delete their Facebook accounts yet and that they: “Shall return to Facebook if PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte) or the country is in trouble.”

Screenshot from Paula Defensor Knack Facebook page.

The DDS is not the only group that has moved away from Facebook and into VK. A 2016 report by The Atlantic found that it’s also the go-to platform for American neo-Nazis to escape Facebook’s crackdown on hate speech.

While some of Knack’s commenters said that they’ve already created accounts on VK, others are not sold on the proposed move.

Those living in Saudi Arabia and China found that they could not access the site, while others think deactivating Facebook accounts was like giving up.

“I personally think it’s too premature to delete your FB page. Sure you can create back-up pages, but throwing in the towel before the ‘fight’ has actually begun is a bit drastic,” Facebook user Ayrin Greyz said.

Screenshot from Paula Defensor Knack Facebook page.

In a separate comment she continued: “Deletion/deactivation means non-presence in FB. With this fight on truth and facts on FB, it has to be fought here – tooth and nail. We should challenge these anointed 3rd party fact checkers and put them in place until they are blue on their faces.”

Screenshot from Paula Defensor Knack Facebook page.

Other influential Duterte supporters have also suggested a ban on Facebook. In a now-deleted post, singer and Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation’s assistant vice president for entertainment Jimmy Bondoc said that he would “personally commence a nationwide petition to delete Facebook.”

He also shared a petition last week telling Facebook that Rappler and Vera Files are “not reliable fact-checkers” and that they might “…use this to further their agenda, and to selectively silence those who don’t agree with their agendas.”

Filipinos are huge social media users and Facebook is the most popular platform in the country. Earlier this month, Facebook announced that data from 1.175 million users from the Philippines may have been shared with British political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica.

Last week, the Philippines’ National Privacy Commission started investigating the issue and whether or not Facebook violated the Data Privacy Act of 2012.

However, it looks like Duterte may have benefitted from the data sharing as well. The South China Morning Post reported that Cambridge Analytica’s parent company Strategic Communication Laboratories helped brand Duterte as a “tough crime fighter” in his social media campaign, helping him win the presidency.

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