How Duterte Used Facebook To Fuel the Philippine Drug War
September 4th, 2018
September 4th, 2018
Read the full story here.In August 2016, a handful of crude images began circulating widely throughout Facebook's Filipino community: a middle-aged man and woman having clumsy sex atop a tacky floral bedspread. The man's face, obscured by shadows, was impossible to make out. The woman's was not. She appeared to be Sen. Leila de Lima -- a fierce critic of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his bloody war on drugs.
But the woman was not de Lima.
The senator issued a strong public denial ("That's not me. I don't understand") and internet sleuths subsequently tracked the provenance of the images to a porn site. Still, the doctored photos very quickly became part of a narrative propagated by Duterte, who had accused de Lima of accepting bribes from drug pushers. Duterte, who'd previously threatened to "destroy" de Lima in public, touted the pictures as stills from a sex tape featuring the senator and her chauffeur -- the person she'd allegedly ordered to collect illicit payments on her behalf. "De Lima is not only screwing her driver, she is also screwing the nation," Duterte said in September. If he were de Lima, the president added, he would hang himself. ("We believe the president was referring to another video," Martin Andanar, communications secretary of the Duterte administration, told BuzzFeed News.)
De Lima was soon beset by disparaging fake news reports that spread quickly across Facebook: She had pole-danced for a convict; she'd used government funds to buy a $6 million mansion in New York; the Queen of England had congratulated the Philippine Senate for ousting her. Six months later, her reputation fouled, de Lima was arrested and detained on drug charges, though she vehemently disputes them. She has now been in jail for over a year, despite outcry from international human rights groups over what they consider a politically motivated detention.
For all the recent hand-wringing in the United States over Facebook's monopolistic power, the mega-platform's grip on the Philippines is something else entirely. Thanks to a social media-hungry populace and heavy subsidies that keep Facebook free to use on mobile phones, Facebook has completely saturated the country. And because using other data, like accessing a news website via a mobile web browser, is precious and expensive, for most Filipinos the only way online is through Facebook. The platform is a leading provider of news and information, and it was a key engine behind the wave of populist anger that carried Duterte all the way to the presidency.