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Rappler brings to light military's dangerous behavior online | CMFR

Rappler brings to light military’s dangerous behavior online

Screengrab from Rappler.com.

THE DUTERTE administration’s fight against communist insurgency has taken to social media platforms as a frontline of action. As the military justifies its “information war” to help quell insurgency, its resort to red-tagging citizens has become its major tactic. The objects of such a campaign have included journalists whose work, like those of activists and human rights defenders, is completely legitimate.

CMFR cheers Rappler for its reports on the military’s engagement on social media, highlighting the military’s opposition to critics of the administration.

In the article, “Facebook removes fake network linked to AFP, PNP,” the news site reported the takedown of accounts that “had links to the Philippine military or Philippine police.” Citing a blog post from Facebook’s Head of Security Policy Nathaniel Gleicher, Rappler said that the removal was due to “the behavior of the networks and not the content of the posts made.”

According to the report, Facebook said the network violated its policy “against foreign or government interference which is coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign or government entity.” Rappler checked the accounts, counting “57 Facebook accounts, 31 pages, and 20 Instagram accounts” addressing a Philippine audience.

In another article, “Army captain named as operator of fake Facebook accounts,” Rappler cited the finding of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) identifying Philippine Army Captain Alexandre F. Cabales as one of the operators of a network that Facebook took down for “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

The same Rappler report stated that the DFRLab found that Cabales was the registered owner of Kalinaw News, a website publicly owned by the Philippine Army’s Civil-Military Operations Regiment, to which he belongs, the posts of which were regularly shared on the Facebook network before it was taken down.

Rappler’s “On social media, PH military declares war vs rights defenders” is an extended report on the military’s use of social media, which soldiers had begun to use to communicate with their families and friends, especially when assigned in remote areas. The account includes the first-ever social media summit in July 2014 held at Camp Aguinaldo, the national headquarters of the Philippine Army, in Quezon City.

The aim was to exploit its positive use, report on activities to build up morale, and share education and employment opportunities for their families. A handbook stated rules on the use of the information platform. It highlighted the potential of social media for the military’s thrust of “getting closer to the communities they served,” as well as to promote the professional image of the Army.

The same report traces the military institution’s shift to the use of social media which led to its problems in Facebook.

It identified the central actor in the government’s strategy as Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade, chief of the military’s South Luzon Command. It highlighted Parlade’s role as “an outspoken member of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict,” or NTF-ELCAC, which President Duterte created in December 2018. NTF-ELCAC has subjected human rights defenders, activists and the media to red-tagging and harassment on its official Facebook and Twitter accounts. The report further stated that the vitriol in these channels have spilled into Parlade’s personal social media accounts, while the task force’s posts also carried some of Parlade’s vilifying messages.

The story detailed how Parlade, in several posts on Facebook and Twitter, included as his targets the Commission on Human Rights, a constitutional body, and its head, Jose “Chito” Gascon; the Makabayan bloc of the House of Representatives and bloc member Rep. Sarah Elago of the Kabataan party-list; and Ibon Foundation, a civil society-based think tank.

Rappler cited the military handbook which prohibits such use of social media: “Rants or gripes” and “Posts instigating fight or debate on perceived critical and political matters that affect the military organization.” Its report showed social media posts of Parlade and other units that were clear violations.

The news site cited Parlade’s texts received on October 15 which claimed that he had a basis for all his posts. “Mine are factual assertions,” the report quoted Parlade as saying. “What we post are authorized and that hurts the CPP [Communist Party of the Philippines] propaganda machinery.

The same Rappler story stated that criminal and ethical complaints have been filed against Parlade by Ibon Foundation, by Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate, among others. But, as of this writing, no action on these complaints have been reported.

The news site quoted former Army spokesman Colonel Harold Cabunoc, who said the military considers social media platforms as “a new battlefield for information between the military and its perceived enemies” particularly “the unarmed component of the insurgency.” Parlade, for his part, said their use of these online channels in counterinsurgency ops is “encouraged.”

CMFR would like to see more critical coverage of this strategy, as the military’s effort to win hearts and minds is engaged in targeting critics of the administration who have spoken out on various controversial issues. CMFR has recorded the red-tagging of reporters and journalists. The military expands with a measure of coercive force the efforts of other government officials who freely tag individual citizens as communist. Reminder: there is no law that prohibits belief in communism.

Early in the term of President Duterte, Rappler documented the “weaponization” of social media against political opposition and other critics of the administration. Their investigation has properly flagged the militarization of the social media campaign to help end the communist rebellion. But this can have dire consequences, whatever noble purpose it claims for its actions.