Rappler traces, analyzes propaganda network against activists

CHEERS TO Rappler’s investigative report on how government propaganda has shifted the target of its demonization from “drug addicts” in 2016 to activists, red-tagging and labeling them as terrorists. Through network analysis, the article described how the anti-communist campaign draws from the same playbook used in the drug war.

By using an initial dataset of online posts from January 2016 to August 2021, and “natural language processing” to identify keywords like “NPA,” “Left Activists,” and “CPP,” Rappler mapped the extensive and systemic propaganda network — visualizing narratives, top targets and sources, and the size and reach of the networks.

Rappler’s Don Kevin Hapal and Raisa Serafica detailed how the red-tagging network evolved through the years of Duterte’s presidency. They looked into key government campaigns against insurgency and how online activity complemented these, detecting the biggest surge of offline and online attacks in 2020 when the Anti-Terrorism Act was signed into law.

Hapal and Serafica also discussed the narratives government used to exaggerate the communist insurgency as a problem, projecting a hyped environment of violence to justify its attack against alleged terrorists. The report pointed out how legal progressive organizations are labeled as fronts of communist groups. Targets also included lawmakers, political figures and celebrities such as the late Ninoy Aquino, Rep. Sarah Elago, and actress Angel Locsin.

Due to widespread hateful language online, activists and peace advocates are subject to surveillance, trumped up charges, arrests, raids, death threats, and other forms of harassment on the ground. Some even felt like they had to hide and protect themselves for “they were hunted as criminals.”

The report pinpointed as the top perpetrator of red-tagging the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC); it is also the center of the online campaign that spreads through state media, police and army official pages, content creators and political pages, among others. 

To emphasize the government’s excessive campaign, the report also detailed how the limited reach of progressive groups like Karapatan, whose minimal resources can hardly compete with NTF-ELCAC whose funds run into billions. 

Rappler concluded that the official propaganda online “drowns out” stories of slain activists, and that knowledge of these murders is confined “within the echo chambers of other activists online.” More alarmingly, it “reinforces the lack of public accountability for the harassment and killings of lawyers, human rights workers, and activists” as individuals already vulnerable to attacks are not afforded protection.

The report calls attention to the propaganda tactic to exaggerate a peril that the government claims it must eliminate, reviewing the approach used when the government projected the use of illegal drugs as a major threat in the communities. Lately, the propaganda has focused on projecting communist strength not only as an armed and terror-based insurgency, but also as resident among government critics and dissenters. This propaganda has laid down the basis for killings: to justify violence as a way to quell a perceived danger. But another effect is fear. When people are afraid, they are easier to control.

Why this boost for NTC-ELCAC, whose activities have ranged from strengthened and systemic red-tagging to the purging of books in state libraries? Is it part of the design to control the voting in 2022?

Media should join their efforts to expose the malevolence employed by an administration to achieve its political ends.