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Syndicate Trolls Used for Propaganda in the


Philippines on Facebook

Working Paper · July 2017


DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.14951.34720

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Syndicate Trolls Used for Propaganda in the
Philippines on Facebook

Katelyn Anne S. Calma Eugene B. Delfin


School of Computing and Information Technologies School of Computing and Information Technologies
Asia Pacific College Asia Pacific College
Makati City, Philippines Makati City, Philippines
katecalma4@gmail.com eugenebdelfin@gmail.com

Shania Soleil G. Reyes Martha Angela A. Salamat


School of Computing and Information Technologies School of Computing and Information Technologies
Asia Pacific College Asia Pacific College
Makati City, Philippines Makati City, Philippines
shaniasoleil08@gmail.com salamat.martha@gmail.com

Abstract— Facebook is a social networking site where people need to have a valid email and be at least 13 years old to sign
can connect and share with family and friends online. By the year up to Facebook.
2017, there are about 43.9 million Facebook users in the With millions of users in the country, Facebook is
Philippines as recorded by the Statista Statistics Portal. It then becoming a target platform used by online trolls. Trolls are
caught the eye of ill-intentioned people because of the large
number of users. Online trolls started harassing people on
users who humiliate, inflict pain, and ridicule on a targeted
Facebook. Some trolls are part of syndicated used for person. These said trolls post provocative messages or
propaganda. These trolls sway the public into favoring a certain offensive comments just for fun to attack other Facebook
political party and ruining the image of the opposing party. users - a form of harassment. Furthermore, a troll is a user
These syndicate online trolls have specific characteristics. It is who sows discord online by starting arguments or simply
through these characteristics that the researchers were able to upsetting people while using nicknames or fake names. They
create their criteria for identifying a propaganda troll. They post inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages to
tested three suspected trolls on Facebook using this criteria. The provoke other users. [4] These trolls have even established
group then concluded that 66.67% of the time, the researcher’s syndicates in the online community such as Facebook. There
propaganda troll identifying criteria will detect a real troll. This
can be concluded from the fact that 2 out of 3 trolls were deemed
have been reports of paid trolls who help shift public opinion
as actual trolls by the said criteria. on key issues and have also been used as propaganda. These
online troll syndicates start disinformation campaigns that
Index Terms— Facebook, trolls, friends, propaganda, shape public opinion and tear down reputations. [5]
syndicate

II. PROBLEM STATEMENT


I. INTRODUCTION
Social media such as Facebook is meant to be used as a
In the recent years, social media has become a part of
communication tool. However, Facebook has seemingly lost
everyday life. One platform of social media is Facebook.
its communication purpose over things that aren’t beneficial to
Facebook is a social networking site where people can connect
its users these days:
and share with family and friends online. It is the world’s
largest social network. It has over a billion users spread across • Facebook is being used to create fake accounts to
the world. [1] A large amount of these users is from the harass other people.
Philippines – prompting the country to be named social • Facebook is being abused and misused for the sake of
network capital of the world in the year 2011 by the 24/7 Wall political agenda/propaganda.[6]
Street blog. As of 2011, it was reported that 93.9% of the Syndicated trolls use Facebook for political propaganda.
Philippine population was signed up in Facebook. [2] By the Some even try to spread false negative information to destroy
year 2017, there are about 43.9 million Facebook users in the an opponent’s image and also false positive ones to raise their
Philippines as recorded by the Statista Statistics Portal. [3] One candidate’s reputation. This problem should be addressed
factor for having many users is that an individual would only because these fallacies can affect the public’s opinion and the
ruin one’s reputation.
For example: There was a report that the incoming • They liked pages such as the pages mentioned above
presidential spokesperson acknowledged the presence of trolls (mocha uson blog, duterte news today, newstrendph,
to promote the candidacy of Rodrigo Duterte. According to we support vice president leni robredo etc.)
the news, these trolls were very active during the campaign • They do not have profile pictures; or if they do, they
period and some were even harassing his opponents and their used anime characters, celebrities, or even steals
supporters online. [7] someone’s real profile picture to make it theirs
According to research, there have been issues that people, • They do not have headers or if they do, they use too
especially teenagers, are being abused anonymously because mainstream pictures
of their gender, beliefs, race, religion, etc. just for fun. [8] • No basic information
People cannot even express their opinions online anymore, • Their account was created somewhere between 2014
especially when it comes to politics because just one criticism, or earlier. It is very timely, close to the election date
one can be attacked by syndicated trolls. This has got to stop • They do not post regularly, or even they only have
because this is as good as cyberbullying; the only difference is one profile picture and no other photos.
that the attackers are anonymous. • [10] Many trolls befriend each other on Facebook.
For instance, the sudden burial of Marcos triggered a lot of
Therefore, they often have similar profile types.
people. Therefore, it had caused thousands of reactions from
the people; be it a supporter or an anti-Marcos protester. There When an article is posted online, usually, the syndicated
was a report saying that anti-Marcos protesters, mostly women Facebook pages and profiles share the same caption as if it
in their 20s, were attacked in the comment sections of was literally copy pasted. It was not a shared command
Facebook posts. It was stated that the comments were sexually because the post was originated by the said Facebook profile
graphic and life-threatening and women netizen also engaged or page. This is because, if an article was taken down by
in the harassment. [9] Facebook for disseminating wrong information, it will have
different copies across different accounts. This is to avoid
Facebook from easily taking down these posts. Also, the
III. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION caption of the posts are usually in uppercased characters to
How do syndicated trolls act on the Propaganda war in the emphasize the information and attract normal users.
Philippines? According to merriam-webster.com, Syndicate When trolls join an online argument or debate, their
means an association of persons officially authorized to arguments are usually illogical and empty. They attack the
undertake a duty or negotiate business. Meanwhile online opposing team by things that are not related from the topic.
trolling is an act of flaming, bullying and expressing illogical Also, they curse and use bad language a lot. Most of the time,
arguments to hurt someone else’s emotion or belief. they state facts that are not supported by any references or
However, in the Philippines, syndicated online trolling is sources. They usually comment on some post they do not like
very evident - most especially on Facebook. These trolls’ main simultaneously so other readers may favor them than the other
goal is to create fake news to disseminate wrong information side because they seem to be the majority.
to the public and to destroy the image of a famous personality, To test this theory on how to identify propaganda trolls, we
most especially in politics. went on political pages on Facebook such as. Here the
Their scheme is that politicians would hire several people to researchers read some of the page’s posts. They selected users
commence these acts. These people would create different who posted angry comments/ provocative arguments/ violent
pages in Facebook to show support for the candidate who reactions on one of the page’s posts. They then selected three
hired them. In this process, they would not only share posts users and used their profiles as their suspected trolls in the
that build up the reputation of their candidate but also, they study. They selected both Duterte supporters and Robredo
would create an article/post themselves, wherein, it contains supporters.
fake information or fake news of the opposing party. Also, These said profiles are the ff:
they do not only operate on a single page, they publish 1. Profile A.: Leonora Castillano
different Facebook pages with different names e.g. Duterte
News Today, Newstrendph, Duterte Die Hard Supporters, dds
We Support Vice President Leni Robredo etc. Now, when a
page that is part of this syndicate posts an article, all the pages
that is part of the syndicate will share this post so that many
people would be able to see it and will be convinced that it is
real for many people believe too by sharing it. These men do
not only create Facebook pages, but Facebook profiles too. Figure 1. Shows comment posted by Leonora Castillano
They do share the same tactics and scheme as the pages.

To determine whether a Facebook profile is a troll or not,


here are their characteristics:
• They have less than 30-70 friends on Facebook
Figure 2. Shows Leonora Castillano’s profile account.

Figure 6. Shows Lilian Postrado’s profile account


2. Profile B.: Maria Evelyn Untal
These profiles (A, B, and C) were tested against the troll
identifying criteria created by the group based on their
research. In order to be deemed as a troll, the profile must
garner at least 60 points or 60% of the criteria that amounts to
Figure 3. Shows comment posted by Maria Evelyn Untal a total of 100 points. To show that the criteria does identify
propaganda trolls and not real people, we tested 1 active user
of Facebook and 1 dormant user.

Legitimate Users:
1. Active user – the researchers used one of their member’s
actual Facebook profile.

Figure 4. Shows Maria Evelyn Untal’s profile account

3. Profile C. : Lilian Postrado

Figure 7. shows Active user, Kate Calma’s profile account.


Figure 5. Shows comment posted by Lilian Postrado

2. Dormant user – the researcher’s used one of its member’s


grandfather as a dormant user. This dormant user seldom
posts, goes online and has few friends on Facebook.
Figure 8. Shows dormant user, Edward A. Barrios’s profile
account

Criteria

Figure 9. Shows Criteria for Identifying a propaganda


troll.

It can be seen that Profile A, Leonora Castillano


garnered 76 points or 76%. Meanwhile Profile B, Maria
Evelyn Untal, failed with 25 points or 25%. Profile C., Lilian
Postrado garnered 61 points or 61%. It can be seen that Profile
A and C are certified propaganda trolls by the researcher’s
criteria. Meanwhile, Profile B appears to be a real person and
not a troll. Furthermore, Active User garnered a total of 6
points or 6% and dormant user scored 21 points or 21%. This
shows that the criteria does not mistake legitimate users as
propaganda trolls.

IV. CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATION


Based on the findings of this study, we conclude that trolls
can be used for syndicated propaganda on Facebook. They can
be hired by politicians to create and spread fake news about
the opposing political party to destroy their image. They create
different accounts and pages, these pages coordinate with one
another to support the politician that hired them.
We recommend that users should be aware and careful as to
not believe everything they read on Facebook for some of
these can be incorrect information made by syndicate trolls
and that they should also be mindful of the characteristic of
these syndicate trolls to avoid and report them.
In addition, the researchers also recommend users to use
Perspective, an API developed by Google to detect trolls and
fight online harassment. There is a demo version of this tool
on their website where anyone can type in a comment to see
how “toxic” it is. [11]
We also recommend that future researchers who would like [6] Dave Neal, “Facebook admits that political groups
to take this project upon themselves to develop a cookie-based have abused it for propaganda purposes,” The Inquirer, 28
detection application or system to detect the cookies of a user April 2017.
or a troll. By doing so, they will be able to tell the activity of (https://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/3009245/face
the user based on their cookies and will help them determine if book-admits-that-political-groups-have-abused-it-for-
that user is a troll or not. They may also consider applying the propaganda-purposes)
study exploring the Security Issues behind Facebook’s User [7] Politiko, “Duterte camp recognized the power of
Tracking from its “Big Data” for Competitive Intelligence to ‘trolls’ but denied paying them,” 27 June 2016,
give them further knowledge and information. [12] (http://politics.com.ph/duterte-spox-recognized-power-
Furthermore, the group concludes that 66.67% of the time, trolls-denied-paying/)
the researcher’s propaganda troll identifying criteria will [8] Aisha Gani, “Internet trolling: quarter of teenagers
detect a real troll. This can be concluded from the fact that 2 suffered online abuse last year,” The Guardian, 09
out of 3 trolls were deemed as actual trolls by the said criteria. February 2016, (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-
The proposed criteria suggests that in order to be a troll, there news/2016/feb/09/internet-trolling-teenagers-online-
are 11 qualifications. A propaganda troll must have less than abuse-hate-cyberbullying)
70 friends on Facebook, like political fan pages, not use their [9] Lara Tan, “Anti-Marcos protesters sexually harassed
actual face as profile pictures, does not have a unique header online, lawyer free legal aid,” 22 November 2016, CNN
nor any basic information, created near the year 2014, does Philippines,
not post regularly, only has one profile picture or do not have (http://cnnphilippines.com/news/2016/11/21/Marcos-
any pictures at all, are friends with other trolls on Facebook burial-online-threats-sexual-attacks-misogyny.html)
and lastly, must always share political posts. [10] Jan Irvin, “How to Identify and Remove Facebook
The group recommends that future researchers create an Trolls, Gang-Stalkers and Disinfo Agents”, 16 December
application or program to identify syndicate propaganda trolls. 2014, Gnostic Media,
This would be more efficient than manually identifying trolls. (http://www.gnosticmedia.com/IdentifyRemoveFacebookT
It would save time and not be subjective since a program does rollsAgents)
not judge like a human. [11] Lauren Goode, “Google just made its troll-detecting
Moreover, there is a website called Trolldor, which can software available to developers”, 23 February 2017, The
help detect Twitter trolls. It is like a database or a blacklist for Verge
Twitter trolls. In this website, you can search for a suspicious (https://www.theverge.com/2017/2/23/14713496/google-
account and it will show you the account’s status and it will jigsaw-perspective-software-ai-machine-learning-
also allow you to report the account. A user would be developers)
automatically listed as a troll once he/she gets three troll [12] Justin David Pineda, “Exploring the Security Issues
reports. Trolldor can help users to identify a troll. Therefore, behind Facebook’s User Tracking from its ‘Big Data’ for
the group also recommends the future researchers to develop a Competitive Intelligence”, 01 November 2016, Research
website for Facebook users that is similar to Trolldor. [13] Gate,
(https://www.researchgate.net/publication/309571165_Ex
ploring_the_Security_Issues_behind_Facebook%27s_Use
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