President Rodrigo Duterte has denied a report that his administration was using government funds to hire people to defend him on social media even after his election victory.
In a news conference after he delivered his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, Duterte admitted paying online trolls but said this only happened during the campaign season, not after he was elected.
“I spent P10 million? Me? Maybe in the elections. In the elections, more than that… And they were all [paid]during the campaign. Pero ngayon, hindi ko na kailangan [But now, I do not need it]. I do not need to defend myself from attacks. I’ve stated my piece during my inauguration and during the campaign. I am not anymore eligible for reelection,” he said.
“Meron akong mga followers [I have followers],” the President added, mentioning Margaux “Mocha” Uson, whom he appointed as assistant secretary for the Presidential Communications Operations Office.
“But Mocha has been with me during the campaign. She offered her services for free,” he said.
Duterte issued the statement in response to results of an Oxford University study, which claimed that his team employed “keyboard trolls” during the May 2016 electoral campaign and has kept them on the payroll after his victory.
“[In] the Philippines, many of the so-called ‘keyboard trolls’ hired to spread propaganda for presidential candidate Duterte during the election continue to spread and amplify messages in support of his policies now he’s in power,” the study said.
It also claimed that Duterte’s team spent at least $200,000 and employed a staff of 400 to 500 people to defend the President from his critics online.
Duterte’s online machinery, according to the study, is composed of his party Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan, his campaign’s social media manager Nic Gabunada, volunteer groups and paid citizens.
“Social media has become a valuable platform for public life. It is the primary medium over which young people, around the world, develop their political identities and consume news. However, social media platforms—like Facebook and Twitter—have also become tools for social control,” the study said.
Duterte, a reluctant presidential candidate, had been swept to power partly by strong support from social media netizens.
Meanwhile, the President denied that his administration was involved in any rigging of results of popularity surveys by major pollsters Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations (SWS).
“This Pulse Asia, this Social Weather, [I paid them to raise my ratings]? [Ask them If I gave them even one peso]. .. And [ask also]Rappler and everything. I will step down tomorrow. I can assure you. I will not do that because I do not need this office,” he said.
During his SONA, Duterte claimed that Rappler, a local online news organizaton, is “owned” by Americans