Rise of ‘Cheapfakes’ Next Stage of Political Trolling in the Philippines?

I’ve been asked to weigh in on the explosion of dummy accounts on Philippines Facebook especially in the wake of #JunkTerrorBillNow.

Having tracked the evolution of disinformation campaigns since 2016, this is alarming as it represents a break from previous strategy.

Our recent NATO Stratcom study highlighted that in 2019 there was little evidence of automated influence, instead the strategies were (1) using micro-influencers and infiltrators of closed groups to manually seed narratives, and (2) doubling-down on DDS-vs-Dilawan rhetoric.

So to me the use of “cheapfakes” (obviously fake accounts created seemingly at scale) raises the primary question of how this was actually done before we speculate on why this was done.

Emergent Platforms and Innovations (Courtesy Jonathan Corpus Ong)
Emergent Platforms and Innovations (Courtesy: Jonathan Corpus Ong)

 

So to me the use of “cheapfakes” (obviously fake accounts created seemingly at scale) raises the primary question of how this was actually done before we speculate on why this was done.

Jonathan Corpus Ong

I would begin by asking Facebook and cybersecurity investigators: To what extent is this automated — or manually operated? Was there a security breach or data hack that exposed our personal information? What other information of ours is in there, and who has access to it now?

The Architecture of Networked Disinformation (Courtesy Jonathan Corpus Ong)
The Architecture of Networked Disinformation (Courtesy: Jonathan Corpus Ong)

From over three years of interviewing “trolls” and disinformation architects, the most sophisticated operations are not carried out by “cheapfake” accounts or by mega-influencers like Mocha Uson.

High-level strategists control the narrative but operate behind the scenes, yet occasionally they do flashy showboating of their influence operations in order to (1) impress prospective political clients (see what tricks I can do, hire me for the election!) and/or (2) create public distraction that would exhaust our emotional energies. 

High-level strategists control the narrative but operate behind the scenes, yet occasionally they do flashy showboating of their influence operations.

Jonathan Corpus Ong

I’m personally worried as I can see that my mom has several fake accounts. Thank goodness there’s way too many Jon Ongs in the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia for me to see my other cheapfake namesakes.

I see though that some cheapfakes include faces or even homophobic slurs—so what personal information of ours do they have access to?!

Our 2019 NATO Stratcom Study on four work models of Political Trolling in the Philippines, which list the diverse kinds of workers complicit to this work is linked here.

Our Architects of Networked Disinformation research based on original interviews with paid trolls—and they’re not exactly who you think.

Architects of Networked Disinformation (Courtesy: Jonathan Corpus Ong)
Architects of Networked Disinformation (Courtesy: Jonathan Corpus Ong)

Editor’s note: This article is published in whole with permission from the author. Cover photo by Connor Danylenko from Pexels

[Entry 314, The SubSelfie Blog]

About the Author:

white Caucasian male

Jonathan Corpus Ong is an Associate Professor of Global Digital Media at the University of Massachusetts. He is a Co-Editor-in-Chief of @tvnewmedia and Convenor of Newton Tech4Dev Network.

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