By Daniel Franklin E. Pilario, CM

It is for nothing that the Philippine populist resurgence under Duterte happens in the time of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tiktok.

Philippines is a Facebook country presently with 76M users. It is not a secret that Cambridge Analytica—now defunct British consulting firm—used Facebook to strategize the Duterte campaign in 2016. Data from Facebook which were passed to Cambridge Analytica was later on used for psychological profiling and behavioral microtargeting for election purposes.

What was successfully tested in the Philippines, Cambridge Analytica also applied to the Trump campaign. And the rest is history.

With social media, it became so easy then to construct the image of the “drug addict” or the “communist” as the enemy. The 2105 PDEA survey showed only 1.8M drug users all over the country. When Duterte started campaigning in 2016, he blew it up to 3M. In that famous speech he said: "Hitler killed 3M Jews; there are 3M drug addicts. I am willing to slaughter them." Much later, he and his men told us there are 7M, making the Philippines a “Narco-State”.

Like all populist leaders, a crisis was constructed and the continuous killings justified, thanks to social media.

What the Facebook whistle blower, Frances Haugen, recently revealed in “60 minutes” is not new. We already knew the problems of Facebook in 2016—and with deadly consequences. Maria Ressa brought this danger to the attention of Mark Zuckerberg telling him that 9 7% Filipinos are Facebook users. She was dismissed with his sarcastic reply: “What are the other 3% doing, Maria?"

As the postmodern writers tell us, these free-floating signifiers (FB and tiktok fake news)—unhinged from the signified—have become more real than reality itself in our "society of spectacle".

History has been deliberately revised, thanks to the “troll farms” and social media influencers who are raking millions for this work. Fake news has become more believable than reality, and it kills.

The next project is to rehabilitate the image of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos as the best President we ever had, and his son becoming our next President. The whistleblower, Brittany Kaiser, revealed that Marcos Jr. approached Cambridge Analytica to "rebrand the Marcos family image". And the trolls kept coming, as you can now see. They are all over the place.

The real tragedy is when people just believe them. And Marcos-Duterte become our next leaders. God forbid. May God help us.

Daniel Franklin Pilario, CM
St. John's University
New York

Click these links:

Networked propaganda: How the Marcoses are using social media to reclaim Malacañang

Networked propaganda: False narratives from the Marcos arsenal

CBCP guide lists websites peddling fake news