Social media giant Facebook on Friday announced that it has taken down around 200 accounts supposedly associated with Nic Gabunada, a blogger and President Rodrigo Duterte's social media campaign manager in the 2016 elections.
At a press briefing, Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of Cybersecurity Policy, said a total of 67 pages, 68 accounts, 40 groups and 25 Instagram accounts were taken down due to "misleading behavior."
"The people behind the activity attempt to conceal their identities and make them look like their independent but in fact our investigation could confirm that this was a cluster of coordinated behavior that has links to a network organized by Nic Gabunada," Gleicher said, noting that the accounts usually post local and political news about the upcoming elections.
"What we saw is this cluster of these pages, groups and accounts, a combination of authentic and fake accounts that were basically being used to drive messaging on behalf and related to political candidates," Gleicher added.
He also said these fake accounts usually post candidate updates and views, alleged misconduct of political opponents as well as controversial events that were purported to occur during previous administrations.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Gabunada is the chief executive officer of LouderPH, a communications consulting agency involved in marketing clients' brands and causes; crafting and executing communications strategies; amplifying clients messages using traditional and new media; and developing new media campaigns and services.
Earlier reports said Gabunada had directed Duterte's social media campaign team for the May 2016 presidential elections.
Gabunada also previously worked as senior vice president of the Integrated Sales and Marketing department of a certain television network.
According to Gleicher, about 3.6 million accounts followed one or more of these Pages, about 1.8 million accounts joined at least one of these groups, and around 5,300 accounts followed one or more of these Instagram accounts.
He added that around $59,000 was spent for the advertising.
Based on investigation, Gleicher said the first ad ran in January 2014 and the most recent ad ran this month.
Gleicher, however, clarified that the content and the people behind these accounts were not the basis for the investigation, but "their use of network of fake accounts to mislead people."
"It's not because who's behind it... it's not because of what they're saying... This is a behavior-based investigation," he said.
"We’re taking down these pages and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they posted. In this case, the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action," Gleicher said.
Gleicher said Facebook would inform local policymakers, including the Commission on Elections (Comelec), regarding this latest take down of fake accounts.
Facebook has said it is aiming for a well-informed electorate this election season.
It previously disclosed that "artificial intelligence has been used to identify over 99.6 percent of fake accounts, noting that 30,000 individuals across the globe are working to ensure safety and security in the online platform.
Last January, Facebook has taken down a total of 220 pages, 73 accounts, as well as 29 Instagram accounts due to policy violations. —KBK/RSJ, GMA News