Thousands of fake accounts that bore the names of Filipino university students, faculties and alumni were created over the weekend on Facebook, reigniting widespread fears over disinformation and privacy that have plagued the social media giant for years.
Four of the top Philippine universities in Metro Manila all released statements on Sunday, June 07, decrying the surge in dummy accounts among members of their communities.
The University Data Protection Office at Ateneo de Manila University said it was coordinating with data protection units at other educational institutions, the country’s National Privacy Commission (NPC) and Facebook to “pursue any or all necessary interventions.”
The University of Santo Tomas urged caution with “suspicious accounts.”
De La Salle University called on students, alumni and officials to be vigilant.
“Postings from these accounts are unauthorized and do not reflect the views and position of the institution,” it said.
The UP System said its data protection officer had reached out to the NPC for help in reporting the dummy accounts, which proliferated mere days after the UP community turned out en masse to protest the proposed antiterrorism law.
“We express our utmost alarm since these accounts are suspected to cause harm or spread false information,” the UP Office of the Student Regent (OSR) said in a statement. “It would be best if we all stay informed and vigilant.”
In a statement sent to the Inquirer, Facebook said it was looking into the surge in dummy accounts.
“We understand the concerns raised by our community in the Philippines,” the social media giant said. “We’re investigating reports of suspicious activity on our platform and taking action on any accounts that we find to be in violation of our policies.”
“[W]here they fail our authenticity checks, the accounts will be removed,” Facebook said.
News of the dummy accounts first emerged on Saturday night. By Sunday morning, the site was flooded with pleas for help as more users fell victim.
Common to the duplicates were the absence of a profile photo or any recent posts, suggesting they had been newly created and likely in bulk. Several users reported finding not just one but several accounts using their names.
The UP OSR said it was first notified about the issue by UP Cebu, where students peacefully protesting the passage of the anti-terrorism bill were arrested on Friday (June 05) on its campus.
In the week leading up to the protests on Friday, hundreds of thousands of Filipinos signed online petitions that called for the junking of House Bill No. 6875, or the terrorism bill, warning that free speech would be imperilled. The full name of signatories could be viewed by the public.
Two of those arrested—Bern Cañedo and Nar Porlas—were found to have at least 30 duplicate accounts on Facebook, sowing fear that this might involve identity theft or targeted attacks against UP Cebu students.
UP Cebu Chancellor Liza Corro said she, too, discovered a fake Facebook account claiming to be her. It had no posts except for pictures of just two of her friends and one picture of herself taken a long time ago.
Corro said she reported it right away to Facebook as a fake account and was immediately deleted. But soon thereafter, not even a minute had passed, another fake Facebook account under her name was created.
Again, Corro reported it right away to Facebook as a fake account that again was also immediately pulled down. “And the next thing I saw, another account was created still with my name, but a profile picture of a different woman was placed.”
The NPC said this was the first time it had received a surge of “impostor” accounts on Facebook.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he would direct the justice department’s Office of Cybercrime to coordinate with the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police counterpart units to promptly investigate the proliferation of fake Facebook accounts.
EngageMedia, a non-profit organization that advocates digital rights, pointed the Inquirer to studies that had shown how “keyboard armies” pushed the present administration’s agenda.
“In this instance, the fake accounts were used for political aims, and this recent use of fake accounts—by targeting those who criticize the President’s priority bill — seem to be no different,” said Red Tani, advocacy and communications senior manager.
“As with the previous use of fake accounts, there’s no way to be sure who is really behind this or what their motivations are,” he added.
“But the effects are clear — advocates and activists, even citizens who don’t identify as such, will now think twice before they publicly criticize the administration’s actions.” (Source: INQUIRER.net)