The pro-Aquino administration Internet trolls have returned. And the elections are still a year away, so it’s reasonable to assume the online trolling operations – the likes of which no one has ever seen in this country – will soon be rolling out.
A few associates within the IT industry had called to say that the social media trolls in the employ of Malacañang, had resurfaced with a vengeance last week to come to the aid of President BS Aquino. Their targets were all those who were claiming, in Facebook, Twitter and other various news and social sites, that Aquino had not – as the palace earlier claimed – single-handedly secured the stay of the execution of former overseas maid Mary Jane Veloso and that he was merely grabbing credit for the decision not to execute her after she was convicted on drug trafficking charges in Indonesia.
“It looked like a dry run for the major trolling operations that will be used in next year’s elections,” my friend told me. “I haven’t seen such a spike in fake and/or anonymous social media accounts, as in recent months.”
For proof, he said that the fake accounts were all saying and sharing the same things, hewing closely to the palace’s position on the Veloso case. These can be gleaned in, among others:
1. The posting of memes of Aquino in a serious pose, with the caption “I am proud of my President!”;
2. The proposal that MJ Veloso and her entire family be shot for being “ungrateful” to Aquino for securing her stay of execution;
3. The insistence that the statement of Tony Spontana, the spokesman for the Indonesian attorney general’s office, to the effect that Aquino was instrumental in the decision not to execute MJ Veloso as scheduled, took precedence over declarations to the contrary by Indonesian President Joko Widodo, his Cabinet secretariat and the group Migrant Care, which claims that it convinced Widodo to stop the execution in a meeting on the eve of such; and
4. The insinuation that “communist groups” or “anti-government forces” had paid the Veloso’s money to blame Aquino for the fate of Mary Jane.
“There were also the usual attempts to shut down people in social media using old tactics such as demanding to know what critics have done for the country and the suggestion that they become President first before they criticize the administration,” he said. “But the real giveaway in the use of troll accounts, so many of them that, upon closer inspection, were registered only very recently using fictitious names and identities.”
Even the Web site of The Manila Standard has not been spared from the MJ Veloso trolling operation. The people who manage the Web site, had noted last week how so many new accounts spouting the palace propaganda line had infested the comment sections at the end of the articles posted – mostly from accounts that had never visited the site before, using IP addresses that are hidden from casual traces in countries in Eastern Europe, North and South America and other such unlikely places.
Understanding this, The Manila Standard admitted having been the target of pro-administration trolls and hackers, who instigated many attempts in the past to bring down their site. The Manila Standard’s community of online commenters is small, after all, and its members are intimately familiar with each other, including the usual critics of what they put out in their paper daily – so any unusual spike in new commenters, especially those who spout the Malacañang line, are suspect.
Of course, while they welcome all comments that do not violate their liberal rules on posting, they have recently taken further measures to protect themselves from the more malicious of online miscreants in the palace’s employ. After the newspaper instituted tougher security measures, the likelihood of online readers being redirected to porn sites and other nasty places had decreased to almost nothing – although they still get reports about unsuccessful “denial of service” and other similar attacks.
(By the way, my personal policy regarding people who go through the trouble of commenting on my column is to allow everyone to have their say, regardless of whether they agree with me or not. I will continue not to engage with the people who do comment, not because I don’t read them – I do – but because I believe that readers’ comments are located in their own space, upon which I shouldn’t intrude.)
But I believe the trolling muscle that was displayed last week needs to be commented on because it could very well be interpreted as a dry run for the massive Internet and social media propaganda offensives that will surely be staged ahead of next year’s election season. As usual, my advice to readers is to be discerning and not to be swayed by such propaganda operations, no matter how intense they get and no matter who they intend to benefit.
As for me, I shall continue to do what I’ve been doing the past few years, which is to cast a critical eye on the government whenever it is trying to work against the people it swore to aid, protect and be truthful to. As for the people employing the old black propaganda methods on the new online platforms, let them beware, as well: the people are no longer as stupid as they used to be.
A boatload of thanks go out to Jerry Ocampo, for giving me something tasty to work with.