Social Media Marketing

Philippine president admits he used an army of social media trolls while campaigning

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has admitted he paid an army of social media trolls to defend him while he was on the campaign trail last year.

The outspoken and at times controversial politician was defending himself after a University of Oxford study was published, finding that Duterte uses both automated and human trolls on social media.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Duterte said: “I spent 10 million [pesos] ($198,000)? Me? Maybe in the election…They were all during the campaign.”

He was refuting accusations that he continued to deploy a social media army, inadvertently admitting that he relied on the strategy in his 2016 presidential campaign.

“I don’t need to defend myself from attacks,” he was quoted as saying by ABS-CBN News. “I’m not anymore eligible for re-election.”

Presidents in the Philippines serve a single six-year term without re-election.

The president added that the University of Oxford was a “school for stupid people”, reported Rappler

Rodrigo Duterte

Image: Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images

The University of Oxford study explored organised social media manipulation, and weighed the different strategies of political parties and candidates in 28 countries.

It found that social media bots were used by many countries to drum up ideas aligning with party messaging, by inflating social media engagement, “creating an artificial sense of popularity, momentum or relevance.”

An army of 500 to “amplify” ideas

In Duterte’s case, his social media manager has said they’ve used some 400 to 500 people to “amplify” ideas. They individually handled groups on platforms like Facebook, that each had hundreds to hundreds of thousands of followers.

According to a Campaign Asia article, his social team denied using bots in their strategy.

An American journalist pointed out in a PRI article that often, just a damning (or supportive) headline is sufficient to do the trick in pushing a message across. Because many people on Facebook don’t click through to the article — some because they don’t want to incur data costs — all they see is the headline and excerpt.

The study also said that the hired social media manipulators have also continued to “spread and amplify” messages in support of Duterte’s policies after he won the election, something which the president denied.

Duterte is a former mayor who won over 16 million votes on a populist campaign aimed at eliminating drug trafficking.

After being elected, Duterte’s war on drugs drew criticism outside the country for its rampant extra-judicial killings of suspected drug offenders. The president and renewed his call to reinstate the death penalty for crimes involving drugs, during his State of the Nation address this year. 

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