Marcos claims of organic social media presence amid Facebook takedown, dares international media for proof

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 26) — Presidential candidate Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. insisted his social media presence remains organic despite recent reports by the foreign media that he is building a web of online disinformation and the removal of some Facebook accounts linked to him.

In an interview with CNN Philippines' In Private, Marcos confided that he has received offers to mobilize troll farms that could help improve his public image and boost his candidacy. However, he said he turned them down even when his camp started publishing vlogs detailing his accomplishments ahead of the polls.

"Hindi ko ginagamit 'yan. Let's stay organic so we know where we truly stand," he said in the interview that aired on Tuesday.

"Naiintindihan ko may instances na pwede mag-boost pero for a politician, parang binobola mo sarili mo. Why do it? Unless 'yon ang propaganda mo na 'Ang daming may gusto sa akin, ang daming followers.' Pero di totoo ang numero mo, so hindi mo alam gagawin mo," he also said.

[Translation: I don't use that. I understand we can boost videos, but as a politician that feels like you're only fooling yourself. Why do that? Unless your propaganda is to fool yourself that many people like and follow you. But that number is false so you don't know what strategy you need to do next.]

Fact-check coalition Tsek.PH reported in February that Marcos is the biggest beneficiary of fake news, while his opponent in the presidential race, Vice President Leni Robredo, is the top victim of disinformation.

International media Washington Post and South China Morning Post also recently posted investigative reports that claimed the Marcos camp has been engaging in an online revisionism project for years now to bolster the image of the dictator's son. The Washington Post report cited sources who said they were offered a salary range of P25,000 to P30,000 to post seeded messages during the election period.

Marcos, who insisted he is a victim of fake news, challenged the media to present proof to back their reports that he is paying trolls.

"Ang sinasabing trolls, thousands, hanapan mo ako ng isa [Present one of the trolls].They don't exist," the survey frontrunner said. "Show me the place where hundreds of trolls are sitting in front of computers spreading fake news, that does not exist,"

He added, "Show me. Show me this person. I can say anything, I paid you, they paid me. Malakas ang loob ko kasi alam kong hindi nangyayari yun [I am confident because I know that is not happening]. There are no trolls, we have no trolls. None. Not a single one."

He even said that the hundreds of Facebook accounts that were suspended in the lead up to the May 9 polls were not hired by his team, casting doubt on the capability of social media companies to identify suspicious activities online.

"Those are individual accounts," he added. "Besides Twitter, some of these are from the United States, so they might be mistaken in some instances."

On the same day the CNN Philippines interview was aired, Marcos' spokesperson Vic Rodriguez announced that his Facebook account was suspended by the social media giant.

When asked if he would support pending bills seeking to penalize propagators of fake news and disinformation, Marcos questioned the government's capacity to regulate the internet.

"How do you do it? One of the greatest advantages of the internet in general, not just social media, is that it's interactive and open source. So anybody can participate. How do you control that? And why would you want to?" he said.

Marcos even stressed that it would be "very hard" for the government to control it.

"Siguro (Maybe) [Mark] Zuckerberg can control it, but I don't know if we can," he said, referring to the Facebook founder and top official.

"Legislation is always behind technology because it takes time for the legislators to understand what the technology really means, how it works. By which time, it has moved on already. I don't know how you will do that," Marcos added. "I think the only defense for everybody is to interact and to read everything. Don't read one thing. You have to be more ... you have to show a little discretion in what you believe in."