The Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) has denied deploying a troll army or a group of people paid to generate online support for President Rodrigo Duterte and his bloody war on drugs.
Palace Communications Secretary Martin Andanar issued the statement in response to the report of United States-based Freedom House on Internet freedom, which claimed that “keyboard army” members could earn at least P500 ($10) a day e just by operating fake social media accounts supporting President Duterte or attacking his detractors.
The same report also said other “keyboard army” employees could even earn P2,000 to P3,000 a day.
“The Presidential Communications Operations Office does not employ a ‘keyboard army.’ What President Duterte has are millions of supporters, 16 million of which turned up at polling precincts throughout the land [in the 2016 elections],” Andanar said.
“With that said, we’re quite interested in how Freedom House created its report and would appreciate it if they can also share how they gathered their data,” Andanar added.
The Freedom House report stated that activities of the pro-Duterte keyboard army were concentrated around the 2016 election.
“Though he had fewer resources than his opponents, Duterte directed much of his budget to fund social media campaigns before his surprise victory. Social media users also admitted to being approached by a supporter of Duterte’s candidacy to “make noise” and demonstrate his popular backing,” the Freedom House report read.
Many of the accounts continue to spread and amplify messages of support for Duterte’s policies “though it is not clear whether they are working with official government channels,” it said.
The report also discussed online attacks on media groups reporting on Duterte’s war on drugs and related policies.
The Freedom House was referring to the website of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), which was disabled in July 2016 after publishing reports about the war on drugs.
The PCIJ report noted that government agencies such as the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) differ on the number of drug dependents in the country.
The DDB puts it at 1.8 million, while President Duterte and the PDEA peg it at between 4 to 4.7 million.
The website of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines was temporarily disabled in January after the group criticized President Duterte’s remarks on journalists.