COMMENT: By Mong Palatino in Manila
The proliferation of fake Facebook accounts in the Philippines is meant to derail the growing public opposition against the draconian Terror Bill.
It is a crackdown targeting critics of the bill, activists, and Facebook users who are tagged in the arbitrary cyber dragnet unleashed by state operatives.
Those whose accounts were duplicated either signed online petitions against the bill, posted critical statements about the Duterte government, and liked/shared posts criticising both the bill and the president.
This is the handiwork of a government-backed cyber army as evidenced by the systematic and massive coverage of the cyber crackdown.
The fake profiles can be manipulated which can be used later on as basis to file trumped-up cases against the real owners of the accounts.
The victims could become suspects under repressive laws such as the Cybercrime Prevention Act and the Human Security Act (or new Terror Law, if signed by Duterte).
Another objective is to instill fear among internet users, discourage others to oppose the Terror Bill, and silence critical citizens even if they are not affiliated with any political group.
Fake accounts for fake accusations
This is another reason why the Terror Bill must be rejected. The fake accounts can be used to accuse Facebook users of supporting or conspiring with suspected terrorist groups.
Participation in an online protest can be lumped with other fabricated evidence to criminalise the political activities of netizens.
It is infuriating that instead of focusing on mass testing and contact tracing to contain covid-19 cases, state operatives are carrying out illegal online surveillance operations. Their unlawful operation exposes the privacy of citizens and undermines the safety of internet users.
Government agencies in charge of data privacy must investigate this cyber crackdown.
State-backed troll farms must be made accountable for hacking the identity of internet users.
We call on legislators to withdraw their support for the Terror Law. They must be reminded that the BAHO Law which they passed with little scrutiny was used to run after online critics instead of improving the government’s response to covid-19.
What will stop authorities who are intolerant of dissent from using the Terror Law to arrest activists and members of the opposition?
Obligation for protection
Facebook is not known as a secure platform but it has an obligation to protect the identity of its users. It has to do more to prevent state forces from using its app to violate the rights of activists and critics of the government.
It should commit to probe this cyber crackdown and inform stakeholders about the steps it will undertake to prevent an escalation of this massive hacking operation.
We ask the public to continue protesting against the Terror Bill. Citizens have every right to express their views online and offline. Criticising bad governance is not a crime. Resisting tyranny is a legitimate form of political activity.
Let us make proactive steps to protect our online profiles as we continue to expose state trolls spreading hate and violence.
Let us show our defiance against rising authoritarianism by joining the June 12 protest against the Terror Bill.
Raymond “Mong” Palatino is chairperson of Bayan Metro Manila and a journalist whose articles are often published on the Pacific Media Centre’s Asia Pacific Report. This commentary was first published on his Facebook page.