…In the global war on the truth, the Philippines is especially vulnerable. About 99 percent of its population is online, and over half find it difficult to spot fake news. President Rodrigo Duterte rose to power in 2016 aided by a keyboard army and online hate campaigns, forever changing the online landscape….
…The old dictatorship is now being upgraded and modernized, peppered with songs and emoji. Through the power of social media, one of the Philippines’ most despised families is being rehabilitated into one of its most revered.
“Bongbong Marcos is as if Marcos Sr. rose from the dead,” said historian Alfred McCoy at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who documented the Marcos dictatorship. “He is a surrogate for his father.”…
The Marcoses’ online revisionism project dates back to the 2000s through the family’s presence on Friendster, Flickr and other now defunct websites, researchers found
. Key to the messaging is that the family has been unfairly maligned
, that President Ferdinand Marcos was not a corrupt kleptocrat but one that brought his country glory, wealth and infrastructure in the course of his two decade reign, playing down the human rights abuses during that period.
The effort to rewrite history ranges from the serious to the absurd. On Wikipedia, members of the Wiki Society of the Philippines — a group of volunteer editors monitoring pages related to the country — find themselves at the forefront of the information battle, routinely scrubbing efforts to change content on the Marcoses’ pages. A key focus over the year has been the words “dictator” and “kleptocrat,” which users have tried to delete dozens of times.
Wikipedia volunteers find themselves sometimes in “edit wars,” going back and forth with Marcos defenders for hours in the hopes of restoring the truth.
“Wikipedia has rules, and because [it] has rules, it’s sort of the last safe space on the Internet where you can’t just push your narrative,” one volunteer editor, Remi De Leon, said.
Administrators have also marked Marcos Sr.‘s and Jr.’s pages as “semi-protected,” meaning anonymous and new users cannot edit them without approval.
The disinformation has pushed into other fronts, where unlike Wikipedia, citations and proof are not required. YouTube and TikTok follow Facebook as the leading sources of online disinformation, according to fact-checking collective Tsek.ph
. Among the most widely spread falsehoods are claims that no arrests were made under Marcos’s martial law, and that no cases were filed against the Marcos family in court.
YouTube is rife with Philippines-linked conspiracies — from claims that French astrologer Nostradamus predicted Marcos Jr.’s presidency to a now widely believed tale that the Marcos family inherited tons of gold, which will be redistributed if they return to power.
On TikTok, with its time limits, content is shorter and punchier in how it glorifies and romanticizes the Marcos family. Archival photos and video are reframed with music and captions to evoke amusement and sympathy, like setting Ferdinand Sr.’s photos to Madonna’s “Material Girl,” or pairing news footage of his wife, Imelda, weeping with crying emoji.
Philippine campaign strategist Alan German, who runs Agents International Public Relations, says this platform has been particularly effective with Filipino voters, who choose candidates that will delight and entertain — “the guys who make noise,” he said. “They’re literally dancing and singing their way into our ballot.”
Multiple studies and reports have detailed how Duterte’s weaponization of social media has helped silence critics amid a bloody drug war and dismal coronavirus
pandemic response. The Marcos family now stands to benefit from that model, especially as Duterte’s daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio is running for vice president alongside Marcos Jr. — consolidating their online networks.
Since 2016, troll operations have grown more adept at skirting takedowns
for coordinated inauthentic behavior. They no longer do the copy-paste jobs seen from Duterte supporters in the past, German, the campaign strategist, said. Instead, they act like real people, maintaining personalized accounts, sharing photos and videos, and joining groups.
The modern troll network is led by a moderator and runs like a call center, he explained. A moderator alerts their staff — typically composed of 10 people, each of whom can handle dozens of accounts — to the agenda of the day, such as news items to react to or what criticism to stem.
Others lean on micro-influencers or “key opinion leaders,” who have a few thousand followers. They are picked by candidates based on socioeconomic class, age and location, depending on the demographic the political client needs to reach. The market rate is 4 to 6 cents per like, follower or subscriber.
An influencer with 10,000 followers could earn between $5,800 to $6,800 on a monthly retainer during election season, German said — more than 10 times greater than an average teacher salary.
One digital creative shared a job offer sent by an agent for a “political candidate” with The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the matter. It entailed running a Facebook page and posting material every day, with messaging “seeded” from the agency…
Researchers say the change in strategy — more authentic content, focused on Gen Z-friendly platforms — isn’t just about avoiding takedowns. It also intentionally speaks to the next generation, solidifying the Marcos family in people’s hearts beyond just Bongbong as the next president. At the heart of the campaign is his eldest son, Ferdinand Alexander, who is running for Congress.
The 27-year-old, nicknamed Sandro, is a rising online star. Whole accounts are dedicated to fan cams of him, with photo and video run through filters and love songs. Some posts lean into fan fiction, where a viewer can pretend they are in an arranged marriage with him, or that they are being fought over by Sandro and his brothers.
Experts say these posts, however, are not just from ordinary fans but rather “people” working for Sandro’s own family. Some clues to the inauthenticity of the content include the volume and pace at which they’re released, and access to raw material — which include baby photos and seemingly intimate video, like Sandro dancing with his mother…
The opinions of experts, however, can be no match for 30 seconds of TikTok, such as in one video viewed more than 50,000 times, where a toddler simply chants “Bring back Marcos!”
It drew over 800 commenters, most of whom replied with a similar sentiment: “We’ll bring him back, baby,” they said. “For your future.”