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Do Not Engage: How to Deal with Trolls Online

Election season is starting.
by Pia Regalado
A day ago
Photo/s: Shutterstock

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a veteran police investigator, recently claimed that a government official was organizing troll farms, for what end, he couldn't say yet.

The news broke as political forces started to realign for the 2022 elections and if the 2016 vote is anything to go by, campaigns waged largely on the internet will need characters who are determined to get under people's skin.

"Maraming information na dumadating sa amin, maraming trolls na nag-o-operate para siraan 'yung mga posibleng makakalaban hindi lang limitado sa amin kundi pati sa mga ibang hindi aligned sa administrasyon,"Lacson said.

Lawyer Marichu Lambino, who teaches mass media law at the University of the Philippines, said troll farms is tested strategy for politicians to sway public opinion in their favor.

The Washington Post reported in 2019 how troll farms in the Philippines, made up of as small as four members, created an illusion of legions of fans praising a particular candidate or personality.

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"Ang masama po doon, gumagamit ng public funds. 'Yun pong pera ng bayan ang pinagsusuweldo ng trolls," Lambino said.

Who are these trolls?

Trolls for hire work behind fake sites with their own content, which may contain disinformation, and spread it on social media. They also engage netizens into heated conversation, eliciting numerous engagements.

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"Ang gagawin n'ya... kapag hindi ka n'ya gusto, kukuyugin ka n'ya," Lambino explained in a TeleRadyo interview.

"Sisiraan ka nang sisiraan at ano ang pakay ng mga troll farms? Para ka matakot. Para ka huwag nang bumatikos sa mga tingin mo ay maling ginagawa ng ating pamahalaan at ninuman," said Lambino.

"Inuumpisahan nila 'yung away, pag-uusap, pag-attack. Kapag marami nang nakisama, bibitaw na sila," said journalism professor Dr. Rachel Khan.

How do you know if you're engaging with trolls? Check their profiles. They usually lift generic photos to use as profile pictures, has zero or up to 50 followers, with no other activities posted except hate posts aimed at drawing response from other people. Facebook and Twitter call it inauthentic behavior, Lambino said.

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How to stop trolls

Stopping trolls is easy: don't engage, even when it's tempting. Immediately block the troll, or show strength in numbers by mass reporting them.

"Huwag po natin ila-like 'yun, kumikita po 'yung troll doon kapag ni-like, ni-retweet, kapag sinagot mo siya? Engagement po ang tawag doon," Lambino said.

Just like how celebrity mom Sharon Cuneta shielded her daughter Frankie from a troll's rape threat by going straight to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), ordinary netizens can also report trolls to the authorities for defamation or libel, said Lambino.

Netizens can also mass report misinformation on Facebook and Twitter so the post or accounts can be taken down. In 2019, Facebook took down 200 pages, groups and accounts linked to a social media strategist due to "coordinated inauthentic behavior."

"Kunwari may fake news na lumabas, kung marami tayong mag-flag, aaksyunan kasi 'yan ng social network, hindi nila papabayaan 'yan," Khan said.

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Khan also urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to look into every candidate's campaign spending and check for irregularities where funds for trolls might be hiding.

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