Philippine Activists: ‘Cloned’ Facebook Account Attacks Possibly Linked to Government

Philippine Activists: ‘Cloned’ Facebook Account Attacks Possibly Linked to Government
Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images

What you need to know

The Philippine government’s efforts to stifle dissent took an absurd twist when thousands of university students, faculty, and journalists woke up on Sunday to find cloned Facebook profiles of themselves.

The controversial anti-terrorism bill has pervaded the national conversation in the Philippines since the start of June. The government’s efforts to stifle dissent took an absurd twist when thousands of Philippine university students, faculty, and journalists woke up on Sunday to find cloned Facebook profiles of themselves.

The dummy accounts messaged their original namesakes, threatening rape and violence against people who criticized the government for the anti-terrorism legislation.

As the pandemic is still in full swing in the Philippines, many activists and dissidents have taken to voicing their concerns on social media platforms like Facebook. But they also have to face online death threats as the government pushes through with a much-protested bill.

One of the threatening Facebook messages sent to a student at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines read, “You’re a terrorist motherfu***. You should be raped like an animal.”

Alex Danday, the spokesperson for Anakbayan, a democratic youth organization, said this was a state-perpetrated cyberattack.

“This tactic isn't new. The government has long been cooking up fake profiles of its critics and progressive organizations to berate those who are exposing the faults and rottenness of the regime,” Danday told The News Lens, alleging that the Philippine government is trying to cultivate an “atmosphere of terror” to suppress outrage.

The anti-terrorism legislation, which has passed the Congress, would impose a sweeping definition of what a “terrorist act” means. Philippine lawmakers, celebrities, and activists have widely criticized the bill as yet another attempt by President Rodrigo Duterte to silence critics.

For those suspected of committing acts of terrorism, the bill permits authorities to conduct 60-day surveillance, doubled from the current 30. The new law will also allow for warrantless arrests of anyone deemed to be conspiring or engaging in terrorist activity. Those accused of participating in terrorist acts, such as “intimidating the general public” and “spreading a message of fear,” could face life imprisonment without parole.

As of writing, the bill awaits only Duterte’s signature to take effect. Arrests of Filipino protesters, both offline and online, have already been made prior to the passage of the new legislation.

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Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images
A protestor wears a mask with a paper with words "Junk Terror Bill" clipped on it during a protest against the proposed by the Philippine government anti-terror bill, in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, June 4, 2020. Picture taken June 4, 2020.

The recent cyberattack on Facebook may have been related to the Philippine military’s increased IT activities. Sonny Africa, the executive director of think tank IBON Foundation, said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has been hiring for the AFP Cyber Group since September 2019, pointing out a surge in fake Facebook accounts in the past year.

During Duterte’s bid for the presidency and his early days in office between 2016 and 2017, his team reportedly made frequent use of online trolls to drum up support and challenge dissenters.

The Philippines internet is a cesspool swarming with online trolls, fake accounts, and disinformation. Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg have repeatedly come under fire for enabling the spread of malicious information on their platform. A special MSNBC report noted that Facebook had partnered with Duterte to provide social media training for his team just before his ascension to power.

“If it was a glitch, Facebook should be ashamed and fix it quickly. If it was a cyber-attack, Facebook should protect its users and hold accountable the attackers,” said Renato Reyes Jr., secretary-general of the New Patriotic Alliance. “Either way, Facebook owes its users big time. The platform profits from its users but fails to keep them safe.”

The Philippine Justice Department has launched an investigation into the attacks with the National Bureau of Investigation.

READ NEXT: Basic Needs Unmet in the Philippines While Duterte Exploits Emergency Powers

TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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