The news websites of GMA7 and News5 published articles with the misleading claim that Washington based NGO Freedom House had published a report where it said that the Duterte Administration was employing “keyboard armies”.
But no where in the Freedom House report titled “Freedom on the Net 2017″ was it specifically and clearly stated that the government or current administration is employing said “keyboard armies”.
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Presumably to support the title of GMA7’s news article “PHL gov’t paying ‘keyboard army’ P500 a day to ‘amplify’ public support for drug war —watchdog”, the article quoted an excerpt from a section of the Freedom House report titled “Media, Diversity and Content Manipulation” where it was stated:
“Reports of commenters paid to manipulate the online information landscape increased during the coverage period. News reports citing individuals involved said the commenters, which they characterized as part of a ‘keyboard army,’ could earn at least PHP500 (US$10) a day operating fake social media accounts supporting President Rodrigo Duterte or attacking his detractors,” read the report.
“Other reports put the figure at PhP2,000-3,000 ($40-60) a day.48 Some reports noted the use of automated accounts or bots to spread political content.49 Similar content was also posted by volunteers,” it added.
The first paragraph of the excerpt was referenced to a news article written by Rizal Raoul Reyes & Mia Rosienna Mallari titled “Money and credulity drive Duterte’s ‘keyboard army’,” published in Business Mirror on November 27, 2016. The article contains mostly a narrative from someone named Bert, a self-confessed “Duter-troll” who claims to manage seven Facebook accounts which he uses to promote Duterte.
At no point in the article does Bert say that he is employed by the government and actually points out that, “According to Bert, all he knew was the ‘job order’ came from an avid supporter of Duterte, not from someone working within the political system.”
The second paragraph in the excerpt was referenced to a news article written by Eric S. Caruncho titled “Confessions of a troll” which was published on August 28, 2016 in Inquirer.net. The article contains a narrative from someone named William who describes “call center” like operations which were aimed at promoting and attacking candidates in political elections.
Just like the article in Business Mirror, there is no mention of “William” being employed by the government.
Given the headlines of the news stories from GMA7 and News5, I had expected the Freedom House report to contain actual evidence of scores of people being employed using government funds to either promote President Duterte or attack his detractors.
But it didn’t.
Just like Carlos Conde’s Human Rights Watch, Freedom House based its report on articles found on the internet and didn’t account for bias as well as other limitations contained in the articles they were referencing to.