Jailed opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has filed a resolution seeking the an “immediate Senate investigation” into the alleged use of government funds to pay “troll armies” to manipulate public discourse in the country and attack Duterte’s political opposition.

This comes after the Belgium-based press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published early this year in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index revealed how the Duterte administration has been using “call center hubs” to “disseminating fake or maliciously edited content and fake memes” for targeted harassment campaigns against enemies or critics of the administration.

De Lima filed Senate Resolution (SR) No. 401 asking the Senate to conduct investigations to the said study and other previously published studies claiming how the Duterte government “has organized and operated troll farms to “parrot political propaganda” using fake or misleading information.”

“[There is a need] to conduct an inquiry into the reports of public funds being spent to pay and maintain online trolls to distort and manipulate online information in various social media platforms in order to influence public opinion and political outcomes,” she said in a statement.

“It is against the interests of our country to fund online trolls who manipulate online discussions on national issues for political ends. These funds are better spent on education, alleviating poverty and improving our healthcare system,” she added.

De Lima noted two studies that found out how the Duterte government allegedly hires and pays trolls to spread propaganda and attack Duterte’s political opponents in social media

The first is a 2017 report from the University of Oxford that claims the Duterte administration paid a total of $200,000 to hire trolls while the second one came from Freedom House, a USA-based human rights group, that found out that the government has been paying individual trolls at least PhP500 a day to maintain and operate fake social media accounts supporting Duterte and attack the political opposition.

De Lima, a staunch critic of the administration, claims these troll armies are being led by social media personalities that have been since been appointed in various government posts adding that some of them are still running the blogs and social media pages that are known to propagate fake news even while they are occupying the government posts.

“With the seemingly consistent findings of various studies of state-backed ‘troll armies’ in the Philippines, it is imperative for Congress to verify the integrity of these reports and probe if any appropriated government funds are used to maintain and pay online trolls by various bloggers and social media personalities with their capacity as appointed officials in various government agencies or by the President himself under various discretionary budgets under his office,” De Lima said.

“Manipulation of public opinion through misinformation diminishes the level and quality of our national conversation and is ultimately detrimental to our democracy,” she added.  (Rommel F. Lopez)