Duterte's Drug War And The Human Cost Of Facebook's Rise In The Philippines
Alice Clearwater

"We were seduced, we were lured, we were hooked, and then, when we became captive audiences, we were manipulated to see what other people - people with vested interests and evil motives of power and domination - wanted us to see."

For all the recent hand-wringing in the United States over Facebook’s monopolistic power, the mega-platform’s grip on the Philippines is something else entirely. Thanks to a social media–hungry populace and heavy subsidies that keep Facebook free to use on mobile phones, Facebook has completely saturated the country. And because using other data, like accessing a news website via a mobile web browser, is precious and expensive, for most Filipinos the only way online is through Facebook. The platform is a leading provider of news and information, and it was a key engine behind the wave of populist anger that carried Duterte all the way to the presidency.

Facebook told BuzzFeed News the images violated its policies and were removed. The company also noted that it eventually prevented links to bogus reports about de Lima from being shared on its platform — but only after de Lima had been arrested.

Yet it is the photos, more than the links to fake news, that show what Facebook and the Philippines are up against. Unlike the fake news scandals in the US, which often sought to drive readers to third-party sites, misinformation campaigns in the Philippines live largely on Facebook itself. It is images, Facebook Live videos, and posts written directly on the platform; a never-ending meme-driven propaganda campaign that’s easier to share and harder to police.