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Duterte threatens to ban Facebook in Philippines

Manila, Sep 29 (efe-epa).- The president of the Philippines threatened to stop operations of social networking site Facebook in the country after the company took down several accounts linked to the Philippine armed forces and police last week for violating its policies.

“We allow you to operate here, hoping that you can help us also. Now, if government (sic) cannot espouse or advocate something which is good for the people, then what’s your purpose in my country?” Rodrigo Duterte said in a televised address on Monday night.

Last week, Facebook removed 57 accounts, 31 pages and 20 Instagram accounts linked to the Philippine armed forces for violating its policy “against foreign or government interference which is coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign or government entity,” Nathaniel Gleiche, the company’s head of security policy, said in a statement.

The network consisting of “several clusters of connected activity that relied on fake accounts to evade enforcement, post content, comment and manage Pages” posted in Tagalog and English about “local news and events including domestic politics, military activities against terrorism, pending anti-terrorism bill, criticism of communism, youth activists and opposition, the Communist Party of the Philippines and its military wing the New People’s Army, and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines,” he added.

“What would be the point of allowing you to continue (operations) if you cannot help us? We are not advocating mass destruction, we are not advocating massacre, it’s a fight of ideas,” Duterte said in his address, which seemed to imply his involvement or knowledge about the creation of the propaganda network.

“You cannot bar or prevent me from espousing the objectives of government,” he added, accusing the social media giant of supporting the left and “promoting the cause of rebellion.”

Facebook also removed another network originating in China that published content in support of the Philippine president and the possible presidential run of his daughter, Sarah Duterte, now Davao’s mayor, in addition to praising the close relationship between the Philippines and China.

The Philippine armed forces said that none of the pages that were taken down corresponded to their official accounts although they admitted that the names of two army captains linked to that network were assigned to a group responsible for managing the image of the military on social media and for civic-military relations.

Two days after the removal of the accounts, Facebook’s head of public policy in the Philippines, Clare Amador, met the chief of the armed forces, General Gibert Gapay, to discuss ways of cooperating on common objectives such as the fight against drug trafficking, child exploitation and counter terrorism without undermining freedom of expression.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on Monday that supporters of the administration will find other means to express their support despite the closure of the accounts on Facebook, which has become a virtual battleground for fake news and disinformation in the Philippines, the country that spends most time on the social networking site.

Last year, Facebook also removed dozens of pro-Duterte accounts and pages for “coordinated unauthentic behavior.”

The accounts and pages were linked to NIC Gabunada, the man who designed the social media strategy for Duterte’s presidential campaign in 2016. EFE-EPA

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