In the age of social media, "trolls" or persons paid to make multiple fake accounts to promote a client have become part of the online community, influencing how the other netizens think and react on certain issues.
In an episode of GMA News TV's Brigada featuring Fact or Fake with Joseph Morong, a troll army leader shared how the trade works for their 500-strong group that earns from online activities.
"We’re pushing the candidate. Marami kaming services, boosting, defense, fortify, we don’t really do negative – ibang operation iyon. But this is the good one," said Don (not his true name), head of a group of trolls.
The chain of command in the troll farm starts with the political clients. They set the narrative that they want to disseminate and the head of the public relations team takes note of it.
Much of the most important task goes to the content editor who thinks of ways on how the message would hook the netizens up.
Each troll in Don's network has up to 200 different social media accounts to maintain and each of these will have to bear a certain type of personality.
"Kami talaga may personality, so you have 50 trolls, 15 doon eto personality niyo teacher kayo so dapat matalino, eto naman maybahay kayo so concern niyo nanay kayo. Dun kayo mag stick sa personality," Don said.
"That’s what trolling is all about...Idea is iba’t ibang tao pero isang persuasion," he added, noting that there are white and black trolls.
White trolls are more diplomatic in their online interactions, refraining from using expletives, while the black trolls can be "bad."
The trolls will have to take turns doing their jobs in three shifts. Switching from one account to another and maintaining each profile is not an easy task. They get paid well for that hassle.
Entry level trolls earn P30,000 per month while their seniors receive P50,000 to P70,000 every month as salary,as divulged by Don.
Other known social media influencers, if requested by the client, can be paid with compensation of P30,000 for a single social media post.
Trolls and polls
According to the study "Information Disorder in Asia" conducted by professors from the Philippines and Hong Kong, trolls have an impact on elections.
"Election is also the season where manipulation of information has become a huge business for PR agencies, political consultants and social media impresarios, and with some help from media," Prof. Ma. Diosa Labiste of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication said.
"I am hoping that the troll-driven propaganda would be lessened this election but it might be too early to tell," she added.
In January 2019, Facebook took down over 200 pages and accounts in the platform.
One of the pages deleted by Facebook was owned by a media enterprise in the country which was caught "repeatedly violating Facebook’s spam policies and manipulating public information through coordinated inauthentic behavior."
Don shared that the trolls prefer to be "under the radar" because they can do anything they want.
The Commissions on Elections (Comelec), on the other hand, mulls imposing regulations on social media.
"Meron kaming meetings ngayon sa Facebook representatives sa Philippines and we are asking those questions," Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon said.
"It they think we cannot identify them because they are using different names or fake names, alam mo, if we just have the time, we can find you," she said, warning the trolls.
Such a measure may limit the online access of the trolls, Don acknowledged. He, however, assured: "We can always evolve." —LDF, GMA News