Turns out Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s former social media manager is into some shady online activities.
Facebook announced today that they have removed 200 pages, groups, and accounts which committed “coordinated, inauthentic behavior” on Facebook and Instagram, that were linked to Nic Gabunada, Duterte’s former social media campaign manager.
In a statement that appeared on Facebook Newsroom, Nathaniel Gleicher, the company’s head of cybersecurity policy, said that they removed 67 Facebook pages, 68 Facebook accounts, 40 Facebook groups, and 25 Instagram accounts.
He said that the people behind the questionable practice used both fake and authentic Facebook accounts to spread news which covered topics such as “the upcoming elections, candidate updates and views, alleged misconduct of political opponents, and controversial events that were purported to occur during previous administrations.”
Gleicher said the accounts paid about USD$59,000 (PHP3.11 million) in advertising. They paid the amount in a combination of Philippine peso, Saudi riyal, and U.S. dollars.
Around 3.6 million accounts followed at least one of the pages they shut down, Gleicher said. About 1.8 million accounts joined at least one of the Facebook groups they removed and 5,300 accounts followed at least one of the questionable Instagram accounts which they discovered.
He also said that the people behind this tried to hide their identities, but they discovered that they were linked to a network organized by Gabunada.
Gabunada was Duterte’s social media manager during the 2016 presidential campaign. In an interview with Rappler in June of that year, Gabunada said that their limited campaign budget spurred him and his team to work harder and be more creative in campaigning for Duterte online. He also said that the social media campaign was carried out by mostly volunteers.
This campaign, however, had a dark side. According to a Dec. 2017 article published on Bloomberg, Duterte’s Facebook army circulated aggressive messages, insults, violent threats, and even false information. It even circulated the false news that Duterte was endorsed by Pope Francis.
According to marketing trade publication Adobo Magazine, prior to working on Duterte’s 2016 campaign, Gabunada worked as the chief executive officer of Omnicom Media Group and also worked at television network ABS-CBN as senior vice president. Like the president, he’s from Davao City, the Duterte family’s stronghold.
In his statement, Gleicher showed screenshots of some of the messages that the pages have been circulating. Below are three of them.
Gleicher said that they identified the accounts through an on-going investigation into Philippine-based accounts which display inauthentic behavior.
This is not the first time that Facebook has removed Philippine accounts for dubious activities. In October, it removed several accounts which expressed support for Duterte and Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos after the company found that they violated its policies.
In January this year, it shut down pages and accounts linked to a Filipino-owned company called Twinmark Media Enterprises for the same reason.