Understanding President Duterte #3: The President’s Internet Army
By way of clarification, I am putting forth this series of articles on “Understanding President Duterte” NOT because I do understand him. But I am trying to. I’m trying to grasp all the intricacies of his methods.
“I seek neither to praise nor bury Caesar, but to understand him.”
Hopefully, readers will add their own information and insights regarding the issues we put on the table for discussion.
Previously we talked about “Trial by NPA” and “Poverty“. This article will deal with what turned out to be a profound and successful program of internet communications deployed by a Duterte general, Mr. Nic Gabunada. The general directed the army of voluntary keyboard warriors who advocated relentlessly, both above and below the belt, for Candidate Duterte.
Google Trends shows the force in action in the Philippines as it dominated other candidates’ on-line activity:
Rappler ran an article detailing how the program worked (“Duterte’s P10M social media campaign: Organic, volunteer-driven“). The brainstorm master, Nic Gabunada, Duterte’s social media director, clearly has talent.
Nic Gabunada is the former CEO of Omnicom Media Group Philippines. He retired in May, 2015 after a three-year stint there. Omnicom globally manages top-tier advertising, marketing and media companies, and the Philippine outlet handles in-country clients. Prior to Omnicom, he was an independent consultant in the fields of “Marketing Communications, Marketing and Business Development”.
Let me just bullet-point the highlights of the Duterte social media effort as reported by Rappler:
- A disorganized mass of Duterte support groups was aligned to fit within four main groups: OFWs, Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
- The program was almost entirely volunteer driven and executed.
- A weekly topic or statement was determined based on events or survey trends. The topic was pushed out by all volunteers on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. (For example, beating down Senator Trillanes “black propaganda” about Duterte bank accounts was one of the initiatives.)
- Negative campaigning was a part of the strategy, using whatever was available. The goal was to amplify the opposition’s weaknesses and build Duterte strengths.
- Bots were not used; the effort centered on 400 or 500 volunteers. However, the volunteers had their own resources, generally internet “groups” from 300 to 6,000 each, with the largest having 180,000 members.
- Efforts were made to control the aggressive, negative people via published requests from Duterte and others asking for civility. My impression is that this appeal had very little impact, and was done more for show than effect, as thuggish comments did not let up.
- The key message after the election win was “#HealingStartsNow.”
- The effort will continue going forward as the new President did not win by majority. The objective is to continue to build support.
- The network will also be used as a sounding board for criticisms.
For sure, the keyboard army seems still to be working and some portion of it remains in attack mode against those who have refused to profess allegiance to President Duterte, or who continue to criticize his words and deeds. The matter of how aggressive the Duterte internet force will be after he takes office, and whether it will work on information or propaganda . . . the former being data and the latter slant of the data . . . is unknown. Above the belt is information and advocacy. Below the belt is lies and manipulations. We don’t know the approach, but I know for a fact some of the ongoing Twitter and Facebook attacks against the “opposition” are harsh. It seems much like an attempt to intimidate people into silence, and thereby tacit support.
That isn’t the style of government I personally respect, but it may work for the style of the new Administration, in terms of results. It’s like the election, I suppose. Principles of civility or even human rights are set aside in the interest of achievement. That is what the electorate wants, after all. Or what 16 million voters want, at least. What the UN or US or Human Rights organizations prefer is largely irrelevant. Some measure of collateral damage (like the vile internet bashing that occurred during the campaign, threatening opponents with rape or death) is possibly acceptable to the incoming administration.
That’s a guess.
Any official spokesperson from the Duterte camp is welcome to join the discussion and enlighten us as to how the internet will be used administratively by the Duterte Administration going forward. I’d ask the Duterte keyboard warriors not to use the blog as a part of their battlefield effort. This is an above-board discussion forum, not a marketing platform. By policy, I have to delete offenders as trolls.
I would note that we did have a few pro-Duterte troll visits right after the election, but they have all moved on. I deduce that they either consider the blog earnest and not dangerous . . . or irrelevant. (Or they are considering how to silence the blog if it goes nega on Duterte.) If they are sincere about using the internet for INPUTS, they will use the blog and discussion forum as a good place to get ideas, reason and civility in a tabloid world run amok.
They will see the blog as a place that will not offend by policy, but may criticize by reason.
We (or at least, I, the editor) start with the intention of supporting the Duterte Administration. Enduring support must, of course, be earned. There are no puppets on the Society roster as far as I can discern.