Facebook and the dishonest Usec Lorraine
For the third time in five months, Facebook conducted a major purge of its system. Late last week, it removed “200 Pages, Groups and accounts” on Facebook and Instagram in the Philippines—linked to President Duterte’s campaign strategist Nic Gabunada—for engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” A post by the platform’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, indicated the scope of the deliberately misleading, manipulative conduct. Among other determinations: “About 3.6 million accounts followed one or more of these Pages, about 1.8 million accounts joined at least one of these Groups and around 5,300 accounts followed one or more of these Instagram accounts.”
Last January, Facebook also banned Twinmark Media Enterprises “and all its subsidiaries” for similar coordinated inauthentic behavior or CIB, misrepresentation, and manipulative practices. A total of 220 Pages, 73 Facebook accounts and 29 Instagram accounts — altogether, followed by about 43 million accounts — were removed. And last October, Facebook removed what it called a spam network, involving 95 Pages and 39 accounts, that counted some 4.8 million followers.
Many of the Pages and accounts removed in the three purges bore such names as Duterte Warriors, Bong Go Supporters, Duterte Media, Duterte Phenomenon and Manang Imee.
Soon after midnight on Saturday, a day and several hours after Facebook met with government representatives to advise them of the third purge, Undersecretary Lorraine Marie Partosa (for some reason she prefers to use her maiden name, Lorraine Badoy, when she identifies herself as an administration official) unburdened herself on, well, Facebook.
“I sat with FB’s Nathaniel Gleicher yesterday to discuss cybersecurity issues and the takedown of 200 pages that FB claims were taken down because of ‘authenticity’ issues that had absolutely NOTHING to do with its contents.” She added: “It was, quite frankly, a surreal experience. Like, I’d stepped into Alice’s Wonderland.”
Partosa’s point here, signaled by her use of that term in quotation marks and by that word in capital letters, is to express her suspicion about Facebook’s good faith. How can Facebook claim that the takedown was not based on content? How is that even possible? This suggests that she did not understand or does not believe Facebook’s stated reason for the purge. Gleicher had explained in his post: “the people behind this activity coordinated with one another and used fake accounts to misrepresent themselves, and that was the basis for our action.”
Partosa is an intelligent woman, so I would guess it’s not a lack of understanding of the reason given but rather a lack of confidence in the organization giving the reason that led to her surreal experience. But in fact what Facebook did — unusual, I must admit, if judged by that giant platform’s conduct, say, two years ago — is merely procedural fairness. That is exactly what we would expect, for example, from any review of ballots cast in an honest election. We disqualify a ballot not because of the votes it contains but because it has been spoiled.
Partosa doubled down on her view: “FB will have us believe that Facebook had NO idea these pages were ALL pro-Duterte pages. Mere coincidence.” This is deeply dishonest, because Facebook does not in fact make that claim; the basis of the removal was misrepresentation, not the disinformation (let’s call a spade a surreal digging-your-own-grave piece of equipment, shall we?) that the pro-Duterte pages were known for. And this is dishonest because in fact Facebook hired a third party, Graphika, to analyze the content, which shared its findings on Medium.
She continued digging her own grave: “The incredible flipside to that is that enemies of the President do not create fake accounts and engage in ‘inauthentic, coordinated behavior.’” (It’s CIB. Pay attention.) Yet again, entirely dishonest. It is of course possible that anti-Duterte accounts may be engaged in CIB. But as anyone who has observed the social media scene in the last few years can readily tell, there is no other operation or campaign remotely similar in scale to the Duterte social media network. More to the point: It is an open secret that Partosa was among those behind the ultimately successful effort to oust influencer Mocha Uson from the Presidential Communications Operations Office. (Unless Partosa would have us believe that she had NO idea Uson was kicked out because her disinformation campaigns had boomeranged badly on the administration. Mere coincidence?)
She raised other “points” — each one as fundamentally dishonest as the others. She harped on the status of Rappler as an accredited fact-checker for Facebook; but her calculated elision of Vera Files and Agence France-Presse as other accredited fact-checkers proves her bad faith. More bad faith: She blithely claimed that Pierre Omidyar “owned” the Poynter Institute, which runs the International Fact-checking Network. Even a cursory look at the Poynter website would show that the Omidyar Network is only one of many funders, together with the likes of the Charles Koch Foundation. And she defended Gabunada by saying, surreally, that “We’re made administrators of pages we didn’t create — without our consent or knowledge.” Right. They certainly know how to play the victim card. How did Alice put it? “Curioser and curioser.”
On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand, email: [email protected]
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.