‘Is Facebook being ‘used’ by state enemies to fight gov’t?, AFP spokesperson asks

Published September 25, 2020, 3:49 PM

by Martin Sadongdong

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Friday defended the social media chief of the Philippine Army who was named as among the administrators of a network of accounts that were taken down by Facebook management for its “coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

(FILES) In this file photo taken on March 25, 2020 in this photo illustration a Facebook App logo is displayed on a smartphone in Arlington, Virginia. - Facebook on August 10, 2020 said it has created a new unit devoted to financial services to harmonize payment systems on its platform. (Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP)

Major General Edgard Arevalo, AFP spokesperson, said the military leadership did not see anything wrong with the social media activities of Captain Alexandre Cabales, head of the Army’s Social Media Center, as he raised the possibility that the social media giant is being “used” by “enemies” of the state to fight the government.

Last Wednesday, Facebook announced that it removed over a hundred of fake and coordinated accounts with links to Chinese individuals and Philippine military and police for “interfering” with local politics and attacks against government critics, particularly the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

Cabales was identified by The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Lab (DFRLab), a US-based research group specializing in the study of disinformation, as the administrator of multiple accounts with alleged spurious online activities.

“Si Captain Cabales ay mabuting opisyal ng Philippine Army. He attests — and we believe him and you can see from his posts — na wala siyang inilagay na mga fake news. Lehitimo at legal ang kanyang mga aksyon na ginagawa. Wala po tayong nakita sa ginagawa niya na paglabag sa policy ng AFP on social media and news upang ma-charge siya (Captain Cabales is a good official of the Philippine Army. He attests — and we believe him and you can see from his posts — that he did not release any fake news. The actions he did were legitimate and legal. We did not see any violation of the AFP’s policy on social media and news from his activities),” Arevalo said in a Laging Handa press briefing.

As the Army’s social media chief, Cabales handles the Kalinaw News, its online news platform under the supervision of the Civil Military Operations Regiment.

Kalinaw News regularly publishes posts about the activities of the Army — from its military offensives up to its engagements with the communities.

There were also some posts attacking the CPP-NPA where — to some extent — activists, journalists and even some lawmakers critical of the government are being “red-tagged.”

Cabales’ personal Facebook account, where he regularly shares the contents of Kalinaw News, was among the hundreds taken down by Facebook.

Further, it was revealed that Cabales was also among the administrators of Facebook page “Hands Off Our Children,” a community of parents whose children allegedly joined the NPA. The Hands Off Our Children Facebook page was also among those removed by Facebook.

Arevalo called out DFRLab for revealing the identity of Cabales which, the military spokesperson said, “is a breach of [Cabales’] identity and personal security.” He urged them to revisit their policy on data privacy.

“Dahil sa paglabas ng pangalan at di nabigyan ng pagkakataon na maipaliwanag ang kanyang panig, nailagay po sa alanganin ang kanyang kapakanan at reputasyon sa mata ng kanyang pamilya, komunidad at sa lipunan (Because his identity was released without giving him the opportunity to explaain his side, his welfare and reputation in the eyes of his family, community, and society was put in peril),” Arevalo said.

Nonetheless, Arevalo said the AFP has already requested the Facebook management to explain in detail why Cabales’ personal Facebook account and Hands Off Our Children page were shut down.

“Gusto rin natin malaman anong accounts o ilan ang may kaugnayan sa AFP upang makita at matanggal ang haka-haka sa isipan ng iba na ang AFP is engaged din sa fake news or using fake accounts (We also want to determine what accounts, or how many were linked to AFP for us to see and erase the doubts that the AFP is engaged in [the propagation of] fake news),” he noted.

“Bagamat ang Facebook ang may-ari at sila ang nagdidikta ng polisiya, baka pwede nilang tignan. Baka hindi nila nababatid sa pag-takedown, hindi nila binisita ang nilalaman, nagagamit na sila ng mga kalaban ng estado at nagiging partisan na sila (Although the Facebook manages and dictates their policy, maybe they can also look into it. Maybe they are not aware that in taking down these accounts, they fail to visit the contents, and they are unknowingly being used by the enemies of the state, and they are becoming partisan).”

“Baka po sila ay biktima naman ng ‘CIB’ o coordinated inauthentic behavior sapagkat itong mga kalaban ng pamahalaan ay nagtutulong-tulong upang gamitin ang Facebook upang ma-takedown itong napakahalaga nating mga organisasyon (Maybe they are victims too by ‘CIB’ or coordinated inauthentic behavior because the enemies of the government are joining forces to use Facebook to take down these very important organizations,” he said.

Nonetheless, Lieutenant General Gilbert Gapay, AFP Chief, has issued a reminder to all unit and combatant commanders to observe “proper behavior” in their social media activities as part of the military’s policy.