Davey Alba‘s BuzzFeed investigation into the ways Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s government uses Facebook to spread propaganda and destroy political opponents is a frightening look at what happens when a tool created by a bunch of developers in California becomes the go-to news source for a country 7,000 miles away.
Just how ubiquitous is Facebook in the Philippines?
In 2012, 29 million Filipinos used Facebook. Today, 69 million people — two-thirds of the population — are on Facebook. The remaining one-third does not have access to the internet. In other words, virtually every Filipino citizen with an internet connection has a Facebook account. For many in one of the most persistently poor nations in the world, Facebook is the only way to access the internet.
Which is pretty much how Facebook wants it. Maria Ressa, the CEO of the news website Rappler, told BuzzFeed News that during an April 2017 meeting with Facebook, she mentioned to Mark Zuckerberg that 97% of Filipinos who had access to the internet also had Facebook accounts (which was true at the time). Zuckerberg frowned, Ressa recalled. Then he asked: “What about the other 3%?”
Facebook’s Internet.org effort has floundered embarrassingly in more than half a dozen nations and territories. But in the Philippines, the social media capital of the world according to global media agency We Are Social, Facebook rushed into a culture that unquestioningly assimilated it.
“We were seduced, we were lured, we were hooked, and then, when we became captive audiences, we were manipulated to see what other people — people with vested interests and evil motives of power and domination — wanted us to see,” de Lima wrote to BuzzFeed News. “It was a slow takeover of our attention. We didn’t notice it until it was already too late.”
Neither did Facebook.