Senators call for inquiry on alleged use of public funds for troll armies

Twelve senators are calling for an investigation on reports that public funds are being spent on troll farms that spread misinformation thru social media.

(Dawid Sokolowski/UNSPLASH)

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, and Senators Nancy Binay, Leila de Lima, Richard Gordon, Risa Hontiveros, Panfilo Lacson, Emmanuel Pacquiao, Francis Pangilinan, Grace Poe and Joel Villanueva on Monday, July 12, signed and filed proposed Senate Resolution 768 asking the appropriate committee in the Upper Chamber to conduct an inquiry on the alleged state-backed and state-funded spreaders of false information.

The lawmakers recalled the information earlier disclosed by Lacson that an incumbent government undersecretary has allegedly been preparing troll farms across the country ahead of the 2022 elections -- a claim that was denied by Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque.

They also cited Department of Finance's (DOF) reported hiring of a public relations practitioner tagged by Facebook as an "operator behind a pro-Duterte fake account network", pages of which were taken down by the social media giant in March, 2019.

They likewise recalled a similar social media consultancy contract in 2017 between the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and a pro-administration blogger who was known for peddling "fake news" and hateful comments against critics of the government.

"The Duterte administration even appointed some of these bloggers and social media personalities to high positions in various departments and agencies in government," their resolution read.

"Filipinos should know why government spends public funds on troll farm operators disguised as ‘public relations practitioners’ and ‘social media consultants’ who sow fake news rather than on COVID-19 assistance, health care, food security, jobs protection, education, among others," the senators said.

In a statement, Pangilinan stressed: "We must not let pass the use of taxpayers' money to malign and harass people who are critical to the government.

"This is dangerous for democracy, especially that elections are upcoming next year," he raised.

"Organized trolls are weapons of mass distraction. The seeds of falsehood they plant ripen into hate ready to be harvested by those who are harmed by the truth," Villanueva said in a separate statement, adding that "all political groups should commit to a troll disarmament."

Earlier, Sotto appealed to Facebook to take actions to prevent troll operations during the 2022 elections.

Just recently, the Commission on Audit (COA) flagged the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) for spending over ₱70 million to hire 375 contractual employees in 2020.

This was triple the number of PCOO's existing personnel, prompting claims that the contractuals were assigned to a troll farm.

PCOO officials, however, maintained that those hired were "social media specialists" given "highly technical tasks" and not trolls.